I recently completed my First Basic Unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. Part of my work as a student spiritual care provider was to be present with both long-term care residents and subacute patients. The other part of my work was deep individual and group reflection.
In our training, we were often told to “just be present”.
Sometimes all I would be able to do would be to “just offer my presence”.
Just be there.
Just hold their hands.
Just hold space.
These could be, after all, some of the most important moments or connections people I would come into contact with experienced. During times of heightened grief, loss, trauma, anxiety, anger, or death, to just be present is such a simple thing to do and be.
I took exception to this phraseology.
If my presence, my comfort, my handholding, my tears, my prayers, my questions, my listening is truly that vital to the surviving and thriving of people in care, why are we so quick to minimize it?
I took no exception to the importance of the work itself. Anyone who’s been in the darkest of places and has had someone come alongside them quietly and without judgment will understand the power of presence.
It was the word “just”.
As if just being present was like doing the dishes or mowing the lawn. I agree it is a simple way to be, and a simple action to do, but it is far from easy. It is rarely healthy to tell someone to “just” be friends; it is rarely uplifting to “just” listen to your heart; it is trite to advise someone to “just” spend time with God; and so it is with spiritual care: it is unwise to just offer the power of presence.
It was not CPE’s intention or fault. The word “just” is embedded into our daily lexicon at work, school, and home. We all know it. We all use it. We use it without thought or idea of consequence, and I have to wonder: Why?
Are we wired to try and sound humble?
Do our daily lives appear so simple that we need to reassure ourselves that we need not do or be anything else in the moment?
Do our daily lives appear so frantic that we need to reassure ourselves that we need not add to who we are or what we need to do?
Why has the word “just” become the natural prefix to our actions and our beings? I can’t figure it out. If anyone has engaged in spiritual care, you’ll know how much of yourself is demanded. You’ll know the attention, the care, the energy, the reflection, the emotional control, the cues to pick up on, the pressure points to push, the wounds to give balm to — you’ll know how much of yourself goes into all of these things “just” being present.
It is not an easy job.
Perhaps we need to celebrate presence. Perhaps so many of us have lacked genuine presence with God and others in our lives that we aren’t quite sure how to give presence it’s full due. Perhaps it’s like a gift of light: we can see it in our hands but we have no idea how to hold it or what to do with it. Maybe by minimizing it we regain some control over a creative and powerful force that sparks aflame between two people in a caregiver/care-receiver situation.
Perhaps our own awe shudders us to make smaller what is so large in our own lives. Perhaps presence both terrifies us and comforts us to such a profound degree that we aren’t able to come to full terms of its mystery. So we make it smaller and more palatable.
Perhaps we find it impossible to imagine that our presence — ours alone — could have such a profound and permanent change on the life of someone else.
I wonder what would happen if we released the just.
I wonder what would happen if we let it go. Set it free.
I wonder how we would see our places in this fractured world if we intentionally verbalized “Be present.” Full stop.
Perhaps the gift of holding light and space would blow up in our faces. But maybe it would blow up in such a way that the explosion would open up an infinity of spaces and ways to be present with every kind of person on the planet.