My youngest daughter came back from a solitary walk this summer with a grin on her face. She'd found a sheltered niche below a cliff and had settled down to read overlooking the North Sea. She had been there for some time when she heard heavy footsteps followed by a man screaming immediately above her. The screaming went on for some time as she sat frozen, wondering what to do. Eventually the yelling stopped for the man to draw breath and, as she felt the angst on display demanded some kind of response, she took the opportunity to shout out in her finest Welsh accent, “All right?”
There was silence for a long minute before he began to walk away but, as he left, he was laughing.
I've no idea what this man was thinking but perhaps it was enough for him to know he'd been heard and knowing this enabled him to see the funny side of his situation. Our perception can shift dramatically when we encounter God directly or through another person.
Recently a national newspaper asked for examples of kindness their readers had experienced. One reader recounted his visit to his mother in a care home. She could no longer hold a proper conversation but was always pleased to have visitors. During their visit, a woman sitting next to her started crying for no apparent reason, but was obviously deeply distressed. He hadn't known what to do, but his mother reached over and gently held the woman’s hand. For some time his mother just stroked her hand without saying a word until eventually the woman's tears stopped and she was calm again. Words can be overrated. Presence and attention were all that this distressed woman required.
Sometimes the greatest gift we can give another is to hear what is on their mind and in their heart without offering an answer or solution to them but simply to stand alongside them in their pain or confusion. My experience of prayer is that this is how God responds most commonly to me and others. 'Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan and he will hear my voice.' Psalm 55:17. The assertion that God hears even if He doesn't answer me, is comforting.
For me, this summer has been filled with changes: either helping other people manage their changing situations or reflecting on the changes I'm living through. But through all the confusion there has been the underlying refrain of the psalmist who always, in the midst of trouble, affirms his trust in God: 'God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.' Psalm 46; 'For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds.' Psalm 57:10. It's pretty much impossible to pick up the Psalms and not find a reassurance that, in the midst of turmoil, God is to be trusted. We're not promised answers, but we are assured that we have been heard and God is with us.
Just knowing that we have been heard can be enough to radically change our perception of our situation. Sometimes it's cathartic to laugh at ourselves; sometimes it's not. But whatever challenges you are facing in this coming season, I hope you are more aware than ever of the presence of the Lord Jesus standing with you. You don't have to hear his voice or get a specific answer to know you are not alone in this season of fruitfulness or otherwise. And when you encounter someone's pain or tangled situation it's not always necessary to use words to comfort or provide an answer, your presence is sometimes all that is needed.
Wherever we are placed, there are people who need to be heard, but finding such people in some communities is particularly hard. Most people don't like to make a fuss and, whilst it's easy to be known in a rural community, it's also easy to hide, trusting on other people's good manners not to invade your personal space. As disciples placed in such communities, we have a calling to seek out the lost and lonely. These are our neighbours who need the love of Jesus and we need to love them. Saying we love them but never putting love into practice isn't enough.
How do you do this? I suggest that we cannot expect other people to share themselves with us or to share Jesus with them if we are not prepared to share ourselves first. This is the season of ripened fruit ready to be enjoyed but it's also the season of new beginnings. Perhaps it's time to do things slightly differently and see where God takes you in building authentic relationships in your community. So I encourage you to share some of your concerns with your neighbours, be they the disappointments of an apparently failing church, a season of invisible fruits or your frustrations. One day, you may have the privilege of being invited to sit with them in their pain and disappointment and, along with your own presence, share the presence of Jesus as well. And once someone has encountered God in another person, their perception can shift dramatically.
Revd Alison Griffiths
Director of Pastoral Care: South