When I was younger I had a framed poster in my bedroom, one of those tall skinny “Everything I Need to Know About Life I Learned from my Cat” ones that were popular sometime in the 90s. It had things like “Life is hard, then you nap,” and, “Curiosity never killed anything, except maybe a few hours,” and a personal favorite, “Variety is the spice of life: one day ignore people, the next annoy them.” Needless to say I was a bit cat obsessive in my youth. (was?!)
These days I’m still learning things from my cat, Jasper. Where the most comfortable spots on my bed are, for example. But the most important lesson has been his ministry of presence.
Jasper came into my life in 2007 when I was just married. Three years later when I was going through a divorce and found myself suddenly alone in a big house his presence was stabilizing. He is a cat that just likes to hang out and he doesn’t mind when I pick him up and squeeze him when I’m having a bad day. Most of the time, wherever I am in the house, he is nearby. As I sit here writing this in my chair in the living room, he is two feet away on the sofa, just sitting there. Being a cat. Being who he is.
I didn’t realize how important this ministry was until I was gone for a year to Hong Kong. I missed his comforting weight on my legs at night when I went to bed. I missed him running to the door when I come home to greet me (a bit like a dog, actually). I missed being able to hold him and cry when I needed to. I missed watching him play with twistie-ties, his boundless joy and uncoordinated goofiness that reminded me to find happiness in the little things.
Ministry of Presence is something we can all engage in. I learned that in Hong Kong when I often found myself without the words to comfort someone going through a hard time. It’s often hard to know what to say to someone who is going through a hard time. In the Book of Job, his friends come to visit and they spend time just being with him while he is mourning. In the New Testament we are instructed to share one another’s burdens and show each other love. In Hong Kong it wasn’t always that I didn’t know what to say; a lot of the time there was a language barrier.
We are all missionaries and we all participate in ministry of some kind. When you spend time with a friend or loved one, you are giving the gift of presence. The greatest gift we can give someone is ourselves–our time, our ears, our listening hearts. Jasper doesn’t realize it but he gives me a wonderful gift just by being himself. He gives me an example of how to let go of myself and my own selfish worries so that I can be present with others.
My prayer for you today is that you seek out and recognize the ministers of presence in your life and seek to be a minister of presence to others. Every interaction with someone else is an opportunity to be present with them and they will know it.
“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.” (Henri Nouwen)