When Rev. Dr. Sam Wells was the Dean of Duke Chapel at Duke University, I heard him preach a sermon on the importance of being present and preaching peace. He told the story of his experience as a young priest, working hard to change the culture of Christendom in his community, and simultaneously nurturing his parish into more faithful service to the world. He spent those early days of his career overwhelmed with a lengthy to-do list of his important Kingdom work. His days were busy, and his office was chaos.
Things changed in one moment; he was impatient when a visitor needed the ministry of his presence and needed to feel Christ’s peace.
The visitor cleared a space to sit on the office sofa, moving books and stacks of papers aside. The gentleman then shared his story of heartache and pain to the young priest, but Wells was mentally and emotionally checked-out; daydreaming about how to rearrange his now interrupted schedule. Not having time for this one man. The visitor finally spoke directly to Wells, “Sir, I understand you cannot fix my problems, but the least you could do is listen to me, be present with me in my pain.”
We all learn lessons early in our careers that shape how we approach our vocations and life’s work. Many of us have moments of clarity in service. Moments that startle us into reexamining and reevaluating how we use our time and energy. This one encounter led to a change in posture—a physical change in the young priest’s presence with visitors.
As a person of prayer and peace, Wells afterwards met with visitors, seated with folded hands, as if in prayer, and fully attentive. He even went so far as to keep his office space free from clutter or disorder. No dirty dishes or coffee cups. No stacks of paper or boxes in corners. While this took a great effort on his part, he saw as part of his vocation the ministry of presence. Anyone welcomed into this office would find a place of peace, and anyone seeking his pastoral presence would be met with someone in prayer.
Can you imagine changing your very nature as an effervescent, vivacious busybody to being for others a presence of peace? Can you imagine keeping your office or car clean, not for your own well being or to impress others, but for Christ’s sake, so others may experience peace?
We can never know the many battles the people around us are facing. We can never know the turmoil in their minds or the storms raging inside their homes. But we can offer a ministry of presence, and we can be people of peace.
This Spring, many of us will launch into an annual cleaning spree. If you are one of those Spring-Cleaning Machines or you desire to be, use this as an opportunity to examine your heart.
As you begin to clean out closets or scrub down floors and walls, check in with yourself. Who are you serving by maintaining a space of peace? Who might you welcome into your home that would find a haven from their own busy lives? Perhaps this is a new way you can share Christ’s message of overcoming the world.