1 John 3:16: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
Don’t tell anyone, but I am a sucker for a good emotional story shared on social media.
You know, those videos or links you come across amidst all the messy slop that fills our timelines that makes you pause? The kids who buy their teacher a new pair of J’s, the team honors a teammate who’s passed away, the dog that gets returned, babies putting on glasses, and seeing her parents for the first time.
They get me every time.
Much of my life and those I live and serve are filled with tragedy and bad news that these stories make me feel good, even if only for a moment.
Often in the aftermath of a crisis, the good comes out of the woodwork. The light shines through each crack, piercing the darkness.
Like many of you, after the last year and a half of doing a lot of virtual engagements with students, we’ve all come to a greater appreciation for the ministry of presence. It might be in your power to do earth-shaking good. Maybe we don’t have the time or resources it takes to make a “real” change in our community. Perhaps we believe that we are only one individual who has become overtaken by insecurities before even beginning.
Regardless of your financial commitment, the season of life, available time, we can lay down our lives for those we serve and work with; sometimes, it’s as simple as showing up.
I tell our team that unless they are 100% going to show up to something, don’t say yes when a student asks. Our kids are far too accustomed to adults who over-promise and under-deliver; we will be different. Seeing Vanessa’s face when a group from our team shows up to watch her volleyball, It becomes clear that showing up is a massive part of what we do!
After all, let’s not forget that’s what Jesus did, He showed up — He was present among the sick and dying, he kicked it with the hookers in the hallways. He was all about hanging out in the wrong parts of town; Jesus showed up.
Jesus befriended sneaky thieves and shady tax collectors and stanky fishermen. Jesus lounged with others for meals, invited Himself into their homes, and mourned side by side with friends.
Jesus was able to coax a man down from a tree, Jesus brought the children in close, Jesus made conversation with a woman fetching water at a well, and that conversation changed the rest of her history. Even unto His death on the cross — the ultimate laying down of life — Jesus was present, asking forgiveness on our behalf.
Jesus’ ministry was of presence, and presence can be our ministry, too.
A few years ago, a thirty-one tweet thread went viral on Twitter, with thousands of retweets and shares and news articles following. This Twitter storm wasn’t about the latest political moves or anything scandalous. It was about Mr. Rogers. Yep, THAT Mr. Rogers — the kindhearted, soft-spoken children’s television show host. The man behind the tweets shared a story of when, during a difficult time in his adult life, he ran into Mr. Rogers in an elevator. In his classic kind style, Mr. Rogers invited the man into a conversation. Mr. Rogers made space, Mr. Rogers listened actively, Mr. Rogers invited him in and sat still, undistracted.
For an hour, Mr. Rogers laid down his life for a stranger who desperately needed a warm welcome.
Let’s be clear, the kind of presence Jesus modeled is the kind we can practice and is also a gift and an inconvenience. It is a blessed interruption. We, too, can lay down our lives in such ways, can’t we?
We can hang out and sit with those grieving; we can connect with those on our hearts; we can show up to support our students in what they’re into and not just expect them to show up at our stuff. All of these examples of presence add up to one thing: love.
Laying down our life for another can mean many things, but it always ends in selfless, sacrificial love.
Patrick Sauer is the Executive Director of Streets 517 in Lansing, Michigan.