The Value of Presence

A few weeks ago, a group from the Communitas RLC visited a nursing home to deliver tulips for Valentine’s Day. While we intended to bring cheer to homebound seniors, we also faced the uncomfortable reality of not knowing what to do. As service-oriented people, we constantly feel the need to perform, to create, to fix. Pope Francis reminds us to bring God’s mercy to the world through our daily lives. But what if mercy is not so much an action, but a way of being?

When we arrived at the nursing home, our group felt overwhelmed and out of place. The seniors were well-taken care of by staff and family members, and we had to let go of our egos as we realized that we were not needed. We shuffled around looking for residents to talk with, trying to determine who wanted company and who didn’t. One student and I found ourselves upstairs in the memory care room. Here, a group of seniors ate ice cream sundaes around a table. A middle-aged man wearing a visitor’s tag sat near a woman who stared straight ahead, unfocused and silent. “I love you, Mom,” he said, but she didn’t react. “You don’t care,” he continued, “But that’s okay.”

You don’t care, but that’s okay. How often do we show God’s mercy to people who might not even notice us, or who might not want us around? So often we are used to doing good deeds and feeling satisfied with our accomplishments. We know that we can find happiness in helping others. Yet, mercy lies not only in action, but in presence. In this way, we are called into a sort of Sabbath of the spirit. When we put aside our desire for results, we open our lives to others. It can feel awkward at first, just as our group fumbled through the lobby of the nursing home, but presence is the truest form of mercy. Recall that as Jesus carried the cross to his crucifixion, he stopped so that Veronica could wipe the dirt, blood, and sweat off of his face. Jesus, who cares for us so much, allowed himself to be cared for, too. When we live mercifully, we serve the vulnerable, and become vulnerable ourselves. With this vulnerability, we make room for grace.