"Show up and shut up.”
These are the words that “Ted,” a friend of mine whispered as we walked out of a home I was called to by the Sheriff’s Office in our work of serving families in times of death. He is a friend of the family and walked in to support them not long after I arrived. He did a wonderful job adding a personal touch to the encouragement we were giving from COM and as I thanked him for his kindness, he told me what he learned years ago about walking with people in grief: “I just show up and shut up.”
Every one of us will have some moment in our lives when we’re called to stand with another in a time of pain. Most are plagued with feelings of inadequacy and unanswerable questions: “What can I say in a time like this, I have no words”; I want to do something, but I just can’t fix this”; or “How can I really help?”
That’s where Ted’s wisdom might bless us all: words aren’t what people need in that moment and most of the time there is no “fix.” We just show up.
Ted’s philosophy reminds me of one of the first bits of wisdom Corky shared when I started my work here: “At COM, we practice with-ness before witness.” That is, before ever trying to tell someone any words of wisdom or even truths from the Bible, we aim to demonstrate consistent, godly, caring presence with them.
As I look back over my life and my work here, I am constantly amazed at how powerful this simple truth is. Just show up, practice "withness," and God really uses that as one part of his larger healing process.
Most recently, I think about how my life has been changed through getting to know a heroic man I will call “Bill.” I met Bill when a local hospital contacted us because he requested a chaplain visit. Bill was nearing the end of his bout with terminal illness and, despite living a rich and full life, he realized one critical piece was missing: his relationship with God. He knew of God and his life certainly reflected deep character, but he said he had never committed his life to Jesus or “made his peace” with God. He called on us because he wanted to make that commitment and to prepare spiritually and emotionally for his impending death. I was delighted to be able to visit with him, hear his story, receive his confession and baptize him into Christ.
Sometimes as a chaplain, just showing up in response to that initial request is all we need to do. But there are times we are blessed to really connect with the one we serve and the relationship continues in some way. Bill is one of those people and I committed to visit with him in the hospital and then weekly in his home until he passed.
Over the course of about 3 months, I was transformed by Bill’s friendship. He showed me what gratitude looks like in how he remembered and expressed thanks for our 16 year old son visiting him and praying for him in the hospital one day, even though he was highly sedated and sleeping most of the time. He showed me what love looks like in the way he clearly cherished his wife, daughter and grandchildren every time I visited their home. He showed me what faith looks like when we talked about Jesus’ promise of resurrection and he boldly proclaimed his trust in God for his final days here and his future in eternity. And even after Jesus took him home, I saw what a real man’s legacy looks like in the way his daughter spoke of him at the funeral where I was honored to serve.
I made a true friend in a short time, a tribute to the heart of a man who was always open to bring someone else into his circle of “family.” I’ll never forget his last words to me: when I finished praying with him and his family a day or so before he passed, he had largely stopped speaking; but I leaned over to him and said, “I can honestly say I have already come to love you my friend, even in this short time.” And he leaned forward and unmistakably declared to me: “I love you too.” And then, just two words, “Thank you.” I can’t imagine a better legacy, better final words than these: words of gratitude and love.
I say all this to share what I realized again in that moment: Corky’s words mean even more than I first realized. I was thinking that ‘withness before witness’ means that when we show up and offer loving presence to another, it opens the door for us to bear witness to God’s love and good news in their life. This is certainly true and was here with Bill. But even more than that, when we show up in critical moments of life, God lets us be a witness of his wonder, power and life in and through them as well. That is, withness - being present in the critical times for someone else - is not just a gift to them, it is God’s gift to us as well. You see, I didn’t just witness to Bill; even more, I was a witness of Bill’s marvelous life. As I said in the funeral, not only did he live well, Bill showed me and all the others around him what it looks like to die well. Over the last three and a half months, I witnessed the glory and wonder of God in Bill's simple, extraordinary life.
So more than ever, I’m all in with Corky’s wisdom, “withness before witness,” and Ted’s mantra: “just show up and shut up.” I’m in because I realize it is in these moments we truly see the breathtaking power of God in faces of those we serve. And because of this, Corky and I cannot thank those of you enough, who are supporters of Community Outreach Ministries, who allow us to witness truly extraordinary lives like this.
-Dean Barham, Community Chaplain
Community Outreach Ministries is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that helps some people in times of death and helps others to fully live life. We are only able to do this through the generous support of our friends who partner with us in this ministry. If you would like to join us in making this work possible, please click here. You can make a difference.