The idea of the gift of presence has been in my heart for the past few weeks, even coming up on last weeks blog. Perhaps it’s nostalgia, my personal desire to pull my past into my present with those who have gifted me with presence. Or, with the passing of the holidays and extended time off, presence seems more easily available over coffee or lunch. Or maybe it’s because amid my introverted nature, I long for deep connection, conversation, and communion. And while I’m not sure the motivation, I am sure about my passionate value of presence.
As I sat down to write, my dog reminded me of the need for presence. Stella is what veterinarians call a “social eater,” meaning she really isn’t interested in regular feeding times but rather eating around when she can remain socially connected to me. It took us quite a bit of time to figure out her routine, as she would willingly forego food for days so long as to stay connected to her humans. The easy solution of letting her free-feed 24/7 has become difficult with the inclusion of a dog food-eating cat into our family. And so, in order to gift her with my presence during eating, she is currently on the floor less than 2 feet from where I sit writing on the couch, happily munching away while I protect her from the cat.
The gift of presence with Stella seems silly and at times inconvenient. I’m sure it has cost me some undue anxiety and concern, alongside the need to rearrange my living situation and daily schedule. It certainly has received it’s fair share of questions and judgments from others. And while I’d like to say, oh that’s just the cost of presence for a picky spoiled dog (fair enough) I think there are plenty of similarities in gifting others with our presence as well. Maybe gifting our family and friends with our presence is just as involved as gifting my “social eater” pup.
So what exactly is presence? I admit that while Stella ate, I continued typing and paid little attention to her. This presence may nearly always work with dogs but often much less so with our friends, our spouses, and our children. Because presence is a feeling and a reality, a way of being and a way of being with the other, it requires some degree of intentionality. For, it’s not only our existence that matters but also the manner in which we do so.
To be present is to be invested in seeing and knowing the other.
Let that sink in because it is not just a nice idea. It is a way of connecting and doing relationship. Seeing and knowing the other means asking the hard questions and leaning in; it’s getting involved when maybe you’d rather not. It’s seeing past outward appearance and glimpsing the heart in love and care. It’s a way of knowing beyond facts and data that requires time and tension, awkwardness and availability.
Hopefully, this idea of seeing and knowing, along with being seen and known, makes your heart stir. It’s scary, it’s risky, and it’s chalk full of vulnerability. It risks exposure and rejection. Presence comes with fear and uncertainty riding shotgun and a desire to steer you away. And yet, it is where shame dies, where belonging begins, and where freedom is found. Presence, being seen and known and seeing and knowing, is at the center of healing, reconciliation, and redemption. It’s meeting the other in the depths and saying I’m with you. It’s reserving judgment and instead offering yourself.
This is, of course, a two-way street, with the gift of presence allowing for movement in the first place. The gift of time and possible inconvenience, of attention and rearranged schedules or priorities, all accompany and preceded seeing and knowing. There is intentionality behind creating space between you and another, be it getting coffee, having date nights, or co-creating homework projects. The true gift of presence never just happens because one must pursue the other, leaning in and learning them, seeing and knowing them through questions and shared experiences.
Biblically speaking, to be known by God is one of greatest gifts of relationship with Him. As Curt Thompson writes in The Soul of Shame, “Paul indicates that being known by God is the signpost that we love him. And to be known necessarily means that we are willing to expose each part of us, especially those parts that feel most hidden and that carry the most shame… In contrast, to be known is necessarily to be vulnerable, to open ourselves to God’s love. It is to be asked questions. To be observed. To be seen.”
This model of vulnerability, of being seen and known, serves as an example of how we thrive relationally. Though counterintuitive to risk betrayal, isolation, and abandonment, only by risking these, are we best connected and free to live fully. From our thriving, we also practice knowing and pursuing, we practice asking, listening, and seeing, and we practice the sometimes inconvenient and often uncomfortable willingness to be present for others.
Presence. The work of getting involved in others lives in a way that meets, encourages, and honors them. It is one thing I hold fast to offering all my clients; the willingness to see the ugly, sit in the dark, and be with. But it’s also the way I live outside the office doors. Having both those who know me well, the good, bad, and ugly, and those who I deeply know and see, isn’t optional for—which is perhaps why I am so passionate about presence.
While you ponder the idea of presence in your life, I encourage you to do so this within the counsel of others. This isn’t an invitation to be seen and known by all, nor a suggestion to extend your presence to those who may not respect you in the process. It is, however, a hope for you to look inward and outward as to how you can offer yourself and your attention fully, with cell phones away, TV off, emails ignored, and others postponed, to the ones in your life that need to be seen, heard, and known, and to those in your life who desire presence with you.
Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC
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