The Power of Being There
The image is as clear in my mind as if it was yesterday. It was one of the most beautiful scenes which I have ever experienced and perhaps ever will experience. Above me, there was nothing but clear skies and the stars, too numerous to count, were shining bright enough to give the sand a soft glow and reflect upon the smooth surface of Lake Clearwater in Muskoka. But all was not silent. In the distant the gentle rumble of thunder echoed through the skies. The only clouds to be seen were gathered in a large thunderhead resting on the eastern sky, just above the treeline on the shore opposite me. Every few seconds the thunderhead glowed with light as lightning ripped through it. Meekness and power, calm and fury, a force which could, in an instant, return my body to dust but from this safe distance was a harmless glowing ember which, if not for the makers gentle breath, would soon cease to give light at all. It was as though I had been briefly pulled from the universe and was viewing it, in all its glory, from some timeless distant gallery beyond the stars with only God as my company. I was there.
“It’s beautiful” a voice beside me said. It took me a second to snap back to reality and remember that I had more than God as my company that night. Next to me was a young man whom I had just met five days prior but who felt like an old friend. I was seventeen and It was my first summer counselling at Ontario Pioneer Camp. I’m the first to admit, I was immature, unprepared for leadership and wasn’t even sure if I really bought all that Jesus stuff but there I was, expected to be a leader to a group of teenagers just a few years younger than myself. I hadn’t even wanted to be there that summer but because of some prodding from my mother, I was there.
“I think I know why God let my mom die” he began. Earlier in the week he had shared we me how he recently lost his mother but it still caught me off guard how comfortable this young man was with sharing this deep wound with me. Who was I that he should share these things with me? Going into that week at camp, my main mission had been to perfect an eskimo roll on a kayak not counsell a heartbroken boy who had just lost his mother. I was a camp counsellor but I hadn’t really planned to put the second half of my title to much use. Regardless, I was there.
“Since mom died, I am so much closer with my brother and my dad then I ever used to be. Dad is around a lot more and is always there for us. The three of us have a deep bond which I never experienced before. I know mom is with Jesus and is happy that our family is so strong.” His speech was slow and calm as he carefully calculated each word. As he spoke his face was emotionless but I began to see the glimmering stars reflected in the tears welling up in his eyes. He looked at me with his tear filled eyes and waited, asking with a look rather than words for affirmation, comfort, encouragement or at least some words of wisdom from his counsellor. People have called me many things but “a man of few words” has never been one of them and so I no doubt shared a few useless clichés and some soundbites from the most recent Nooma video even though in my heart I was speechless. I was speechless, but I was there.
I felt totally and completely small and inadequate as both a leader and as a Christian next to this young man of fourteen who had found the peace which surpases all understanding even in the midst of tragedy. At that point in my life, I had thought and cared very little about what it meant to follow Jesus and I expect that an event like the death of my mother would have been the last straw in my already growing scepticism toward my childhood faith. But in his eyes I saw not anger, I saw peace and in his words I heard not doubt, I heard faith. I had never seen this depth of peace nor heard this amount of faith before and only rarely since. The only one who learned anything in that moment was me. I learned it because I was there.
Just then, what I thought had been the pinnacle of nature’s beauty began to grow even more magnificent. The sky began to brighten as a full moon peaked out from above the still smoldering thunderhead in the eastern sky. I was returned to God’s gallery, this time with a companion, as we both sat in silence and watched the lesser light slowly rise as if emerging from it’s very place of creation. To this day I have never seen God’s beauty displayed more clearly than in that night where the heavens declared his wonders and the skies proclaimed the work of his hands. In experiencing nature and in sharing in the sufferings of another human soul, I saw His invisible qualities made manifest and now I am without excuse. How did I learn so much from a simple moment where little was said and even less was accomplished? God spoke to me because I was there before Him and this young man spoke to me because I was there beside him. My life was changed, because I was there.
Never underestimate the power of being there.