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Practicing “Withness” During a Crisis

This idea of “withness” is challenging in these sequestered times.

Perhaps our Coronavirus-isolation is causing us to reconsider what’s important. And perhaps we’ll emerge from this with a little different perspective. When our oldest daughter was thirteen, we moved into a new school district. Since Rachel was typically an internal processor and often learned through observance, it was sometimes difficult to know what she was wrestling with in her inner world, particularly since she tended to be even-tempered and optimistic. One night my wife came out of Rachel’s room and said, “I’m not sure what’s wrong. She’s just being very quiet.” It was a hot August night—almost midnight and she was still up. Our family tended to be late-nighters, especially during the summer. We had moved to the new district over the Easter break but had been driving our girls to the old school for the remaining couple of months so they wouldn’t have to switch mid-stream. And now after eight years in a small school, she would be attending a very large one where she knew no one. To us it didn’t seem like a major issue, particular since she was so involved in the youth group at church. But she was clearly down. And the reality is, any problem is big when it’s big to you. I knocked on her door, walked in and sat on the edge of her bed. “You okay?” I asked. Without looking up, she responded, “Yeah.” “What’s wrong?” A pause, then, “I don’t know.” You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that from here on out it’s going to be short answers. We sat there in silence for a few moments, then I asked, “Have you ever gone on a bike ride at midnight?” She looked at me quizzically. When I was a little boy, I idolized my big brother. He was five years older than me and the coolest guy on the planet. Or at least in Augusta, Kentucky, population twelve-hundred. One summer night when we were kids, he invited me to go bike riding after our parents had long gone to sleep. He didn’t seem to be embarrassed to be seen with his little skinny baby brother. But then again, maybe that’s why we went at midnight. We taped flashlights on our handlebars and took off down Bracken Street. We made our way to a pitch-black country road heading out of town along a marshy field bordering the river. My eyes suddenly widened: the field was littered with thousands of fireflies. It seemed like we somehow coasted our Huffys beyond the rings of Saturn into a sea of twinkling stars. I can close my eyes and still see it to this day. It’s a wonderful memory; I owe my big brother for that one. Still sitting on the edge of Rachel’s bed, I looked down at her and said, “Let’s go for a bike ride.” She flashed a puzzled grin. We pulled our bikes out of the garage after I duct taped a flashlight on my handlebars. We rode past the massive nearly ninety-year-old WLW diamond-shaped radio tower, once powerful enough to broadcast on children’s braces. Seriously. A few cars slowed to look at the white-haired man on a bike with a flashlight and a blond thirteen-year-old. We didn’t talk much as we rode across the moonlit blacktop, past darkened houses, sneaking glances voyeuristically at the windows with a slight blue glow from televisions. We simply gulped in the warm midnight air. How often do you get to do that in life with your thirteen-year-old? We eventually made our way home. Rachel smiled, gave me a hug, and went off to bed. Sometimes we just need someone to be there, to be with. What words, rational explanations and clever justifications don’t do, withness does. During this pandemic, I’ve been fascinated by the ingenuity of people. People in hard-hit Italy singing together from their balconies. Videoconferencing workouts. Virtual happy hours. Neighbors leaving dinners on porches. Writing actual hard-copy letters. People applauding hospital workers as they pass. We need each other. We’re wired for this mysterious thing called community, for withness. It doesn’t take much for any of us to feel valued, to feel loved, to feel connected. And ultimately: “...I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” ~Jesus

Question of the Day: How are you and your church practicing “withness”?



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