Henri Nouwen said, “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”
Some wounds don’t heal. Some wounds heal and leave a deforming scar. Some wounds never stop hurting because in the healing, nerves were trapped in the scar as it forms. It is the person who can sit with us and not suggest a remedy for our maladies that gives the most benefit. They keep company without offering advice or giving a pep talk. It is that vigil that is offered by a true friend. So often, people only feel helpful if they are doing. Sometimes the doing is not doing. Sometimes the best action is inaction. Sometimes the best advice is no advice. It is this presence, the company that we keep, that marks a true, loving, forgiving, accepting heart.
There is a filament of criticism, maybe even judgment when structured advice is given. “You should try this.” “You could have done that.” “Didn’t you think about that?” “When it happened to me, I did this.” Honestly, how does that really help? The best friend is the one who sits unperturbed and lets me weep or rant or scream or fret, pacing and freaking out. The true friend is the one who avoids shifting the center onto themselves. You never hear them say, “I know exactly what you mean! It happened to me, too but I did it this way instead.” The true friend seeks nothing other than your peace of mind and your own attainment of reconciliation…with yourself. They don’t want credit or accolades. They don’t even want to be seen. They just want to be present. And in that presence, be supportive.
I hear Jesus admonishing Peter and the others in the garden. Our Lord is alone and worried, afraid and disturbed. He ASKS for company…for but one hour. One stinking, lousy hour. And what does he get? A bunch of nappers. And it hurt. Jesus was hurt by this. God wants us present. He wants our company, if only for a bit. Jesus never called an emergency shareholders meeting to trouble shoot and problem solve. He never asked the other guys to pitch some ideas about how to stay off the cross. All he wanted was company…that stayed awake. I mean, honestly, how hard is that?
But the friend who stays present, who sees us in our worse moments and does not flee, is the person who gives us the most support. They can’t fix things; they don’t even try. Their powerlessness is not disturbing nor is it a failure. Rather, it is a sign of true and deep commitment to let us be ourselves, to find ourselves and to reconcile ourselves with our anguish. It is love; pure, abiding, unconditional love. Presence is the best present.