Sunday, April 21, 2013

Presence, Absence, and Rescue

Ann Arbor

We have been rescued, therefore we rescue.

Here is a typical day for me, as I recorded it in my journal several months ago.

"Today has been a series of rescue missions: a marriage where husband and wife have drifted far apart; a homeless man drowning in his alcoholism; a young person wanting to end it all and a desperate parent trying to stop her from doing it; a mother grieving the death of her son. All this, and some more, and it's only two in the afternoon. Now I'm going out alone to spend 4-5 hours praying. That, too, is part of the rescue effort going on today."

Henri Nouwen talks about having a ministry of presence and a ministry of absence. My time spent with others can be a ministry of presence; my time alone with God is a ministry of absence. This is about discernment, about knowing when to be with people and when not to be with people. Jesus hung with the crowds, and then disappeared to that "lonely place" where it was just him and the Father. There's a time to be with people, and a time to be apart from people. A time to talk with people, a time to pray for people.

To rescue people both are needed. But the ministry of absence seems wrong. How can we help someone if we are not always there with them? This question grows out of the failure to realize what every rescuee most needs. What the hurting, suffering person needs is not us, but God. What they need is to be found by God and cling to the life preserver he tosses into the ocean of their despair. God can and does use us in the process. Sometimes we are that life preserver, tossed by God into the sea of trouble. But it does not all depend on us. Our constant hovering over people can, at times, be detrimental to what God wants to do.

Exercising a ministry of absence teaches us to trust that God is the one who rescues, and not us. In our alone-times with God he will break us of the "illusion of our indispensability," and release us into trusting in his greater love for the troubled. We can rest in the truth that, if this marriage gets reconciled, then the credit will go to God and not us. One wants to be with the suicidal person every moment, coach the alcoholic 24/7, hold on to the grieving heart continually, and to give non-stop advice to the imprisoned marriage. Those impulses can be indicative of a failure to trust.

At Redeemer we sing a worship song called "You Came to My Rescue." It has a line that says, "I called, You answered, and You came to my rescue." I love that line! Every time I sing it I think of my own rescue. God was working in my heart way before some person spoke to me about Jesus, and way after they spoke to me. The person who introduced me to Jesus was not with me during the struggle for my soul, as I was coming to a decision, which was finalized as I walked alone down a street in DeKalb, Illinois. Love came down and rescued me. My life was forever changed. I became a person who wanted to help others. Is anything more fulfilling?