I took my middle child out for lunch today.
We don’t get to do that very often. Usually, it is our whole family together, so getting time one-on-one with her (or any of the kids for that matter) is a rare treat.
And so we sat in the restaurant, talking about mundane things (the weather, our food, etc.) All the while, I was thinking to myself, “I need to say something profound. This is an important moment; we don’t have these!” I thought and thought.
Then I gave up because it hit me:
The profundity of the moment is not in what we say, it is in the relationship. It is not based upon words, but upon presence.
I think that if we take that idea to its end, we see that “presence” is what makes our Lutheran schools special. There are moments when we make a child’s day, not because of a lecture, but because we are there. It isn’t the speaking and action which can have that great impact on our student as much as the listening. I recently ran across this quote from Henri Nouwen in his book “Reaching Out“:
“Teachers who can detach themselves from their need to impress and control, and who can allow themselves to become receptive for the news that their students carry with them, will find that it is in receptivity that gifts become visible.”
Our presence as Lutheran school teachers extends beyond the classrooms, the ball fields, or the sanctuary. We have a presence in the entire lives of our school families. A family at a school where I served had a fire that destroyed part of their home. I was on the phone with families, agencies, and other area principals lining up aid. I called the mother of the family to explain what had been raised for the family–everything from cash and gift cards to clothing and furniture. The mother was overwhelmed. “I never thought the school would do anything like this…”
I interrupted her, “We aren’t just ‘the school’ we are a family.”
That was a time of presence–interwoven throughout the lives of parents and student alike. Some of those tapestries are brief. I will never forget a student that was in school with us for roughly 3/4 of a year before he had to leave. Such a brief moment with him! I pray that all is well with him. Other tapestries are long and ornate. A couple of my former students have asked me to take part in their wedding ceremonies. Can you believe it? Me! Words cannot express the humble joy I have to continue friendships with these students as they are now adults. Some of those students have ministered to me in my lowest moments; the ministry of presence in symbiosis.
Of course, if we go to the root of presence, we find that this ministry of presence is rooted in the Real Presence. What better way to describe this than in the hymn:
God, Himself, present on earth. Given to us at Christmas. Given up for us as The Sacrifice. The “presence” that allows us to be present.
I stared at my daughter. I ate my meal and listened to her talk. I spoke up only when she asked me questions. We enjoyed our lunch together and in the small, passing, fleeting moment, I quietly and profusely thanked God for the time I have with my daughter.
No big speech. Just a profound presence.