It can be hard to know how to help when someone we care about is suffering. Vivian Mabuni points us to the present of presence.
The Present of Presence
By Vivian Mabuni
Right below my left collarbone, where the seatbelt rests when I drive, an inch long silvery scar catches the bathroom light when I don my comfy strapless summer dress. The port placed to administer chemotherapy drugs no longer bulges under my skin. Though the scar has faded, along with many of the memories from those dark days, emails still arrive several times a month requesting advice on how to encourage someone going through a health crisis.
The tricky thing with cancer and any other personal crisis is everyone's journey is different. What is helpful for one may not be for someone else, and how people process grief, loss and pain varies; unique like each person's thumbprint, and each person's prescribed medical treatment.
While undergoing active treatment for breast cancer, I received an assortment of well-intended, unsolicited advice. Concerned folks offered sure-fire cures for cancer-special soup recipes, links to purchase rare cartilage of some endangered species, or extremely expensive cancer killing mushrooms. Others liberally shared God's obvious purposes and will for my cancer and stories of family members or friends who died from cancer.
Over and over people would say, "If you ever need anything, please don't hesitate to call. I mean it. Seriously. Anytime." I never called any of them.
Both unsolicited advice and look on the bright side, "at least it's" comments like "at least it's stage 3 instead of stage 4" felt unhelpful and discouraging.
If your friend or family member isn't asking for your personal insight, advice or Bible verses to look up, I encourage you to gift your friend or family member with the present of presence.
Those who drew close and simply sat with me as I endured emotional and physical pain brought profound comfort. No words. Sometimes shared tears. My friend, Lisa, kept me company on the bedroom floor. Nausea and pain prevented me from making it to my bed, so I held onto a lined trashcan and leaned up against the wall. And we sat, unhurried, until I could move again.
Some of you may be like me. You like being helpful in practical ways, to actively do something. I have a profound gratitude for prayer, it is truly active! When I didn't have the energy to pray for myself, I can't tell you how much it meant that God woke people up to pray for me during some of my darkest nights. So pray and keep praying. Pray for the Lord to use this trial to draw your friend or family member into deeper intimacy with Him. Pray the Lord brings the right people at the right time to help develop greater connection with Him. Pray the Lord opens her eyes to see Him as He truly is, and pray the Lord melts away the pride keeping people at bay or blocked out of her life. Pray your friend to have knowledge of God's will and the power to carry it out.
For those far away in proximity, a quick "thinking of you today" or "love you" and other types of texts which require no response, with an every once in a while a "how can I pray for you today" may help your friend know you are with her and in her corner.
The soul altering experience of walking through cancer treatment with others has changed me profoundly. And the present of presence remains a gift I will always cherish.
**If you've recently been diagnosed with cancer, I have written a letter to you here.
Vivian Mabuni is a speaker and author, and a sushi, white Christmas lights, post-its, and coffee-with-friends lover. She is the author of Warrior in Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community, and the God Who Comforts. Vivian has been on staff with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) for 28 years and serves with Epic Movement, the Asian American ministry of Cru. Connect with Vivian on Twitter and Instagram @vivmabuni or at vivianmabuni.com.