here: remembering the power of physical presence on National Hugging Day
Today is National Hugging Day. All day, I've been thinking about the power of physical presence in each other's lives...and the power of our physical presence in this world that God so loves.
In honor of National Hugging Day, here's an excerpt from my book WELL, where I was reminded of the power of presence as I worked to try to save lives at a hospital in Togo, West Africa.
I wondered if, when Jesus was alone, he sat down with his head in his hands and, with tears streaming down his face, asked his father the same questions I was asking now: Why does it matter that I’m physically present here? Why does it matter that I’ve sacrificed comfort in order to be tired and sweaty and hungry and thirsty and in pain? Why does it matter that I’m here if I can’t heal every person who’s sick, or resurrect every person who has died? God, why did you send me here if, even after all the sacrifices I’ve made to be here, injustice and hunger and death and pain are going to continue?
I wondered what, if anything, was the point of Jesus being physically present in our world. What was the significance of Emmanuel—of God being With Us?
If we look at everything Jesus left undone when he departed from the earth, then his presence hardly mattered at all. People were still sick, they still died, they were still oppressed, and they still suffered.
So why did it matter that Emmanuel was here?
As I thought about it, the question became its own answer. Emmanuel’s value did not lie in what he did or didn’t accomplish while he walked the earth. What mattered was that he was here.
He was here.
Jesus’ presence mattered because it was a tangible reminder that we are not invisible to our Father. We are never lost to him, we are never forgotten by him, we are never abandoned by him. When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, he said he was here because “God so loves the world.”
So why did it matter that the other missionaries and I were here in Togo?
The question soon became its own answer.
Though we tried our hardest and did lots of good for the Togolese people, our ultimate value did not only lie in what we could or could not accomplish.
What mattered most is that we were here.
With our physical presence we reminded the Togolese people that they were not forgotten or lost or abandoned. They were not invisible to their lov- ing, compassionate Parent.
I had wondered many times if Togo was a God-forsaken place. And now I knew the answer. No place is God-forsaken if people, who experience and express the love of God, go there.
Jesus came to earth to show us that God is here, that God is now, that there is no place where Divine Love cannot or will not go. As followers of Jesus, we have the opportunity to say the same thing with our lives.
For me, this was the point of going to Togo, and of seeing the Invisible Girls on the train in Portland. This is why it’s important that all followers of Jesus go into the corners of the world where others cannot, will not, dare not go—from jail cells, homeless shelters, crime-ridden neighborhoods, and underperforming schools to Ivy League universities, Fortune 500 companies, Fifth Avenue marketing firms, and everywhere in between.
None of us is capable of single-handedly changing the world. But if we each reach out to the people around us, we can bring healing to the cracks within our reach. We can remind people with our physical presence and with acts of tangible kindness that Love is here, Love is now, and there is no place on earth that Love cannot or will not or dare not go.
That night, I fell asleep with tears spilling onto my pillow, partly from exhaustion and partly from relief.
I knew that in two days, when it was time for my next shift, I would return to the hospital and start again. Not because I could fix every problem or diagnose every illness or alleviate all the suffering there. But because just by being there, I made a statement.
God still loves me.
God still loves you.
And despite all the dangers and toils and snares . . . God still so loves the world.
To read more, please order your copy of WELL today. (It's also available as an ebook and audiobook!)