Being Present: How Does This Relate to Christian Counseling?
Is there something valuable for us in the concept of being present?
What Do We Mean by Being Present?
“Being present!” What is it, really? Being present during our interactions with another person involves:
- Slowing down enough to really be in a situation. Our age is one of extreme busyness—we are maxed out, exhausted, and constantly multi-tasking.
- Paying attention. This means noticing details and nuances, and asking careful questions for clarification.
- Focusing on the interaction. This is a deliberate, careful listening and involvement.
- Patience. When listening to another, check whether you are creating your response while the other person is speaking. Are you waiting for them to finish speaking so that you can get your thoughts out?
- Empathy. A dictionary definition of empathy is a “vicarious identification with or experiencing of the actions, feelings, or attitudes of another.” Sympathy is often confused with empathy; the difference is that sympathy is extending compassion to another in difficulty, while empathy knows what it is like to be in the other’s shoes.
Jesus is God-with-Us
A great way to develop these characteristics in our lives is by noting how they are exemplified in the character of Jesus. His empathy for us humans was clear—the apostle Paul says in Galatians 2 that Christ “emptied himself” and became a man. He walked in our shoes and knows everything we feel, having been one of us. He slowed down, stopped, and listened carefully to people with intention and deliberation – witness his interaction with the Samaritan woman (John 4:7-42).
While we can develop skills that help us to be present, we should note that one of the names of Jesus is Emmanuel, which means God-with-us. Jesus did not just model being truly present, he also promised to be with us always – to be present with us. Jesus, Emmanuel, is the most present person who ever lived. As we emulate Christ in our treatment of others both inside and outside the counseling setting, the cues we take come from his character. A Christian counselor is called to be “be with” the client as Christ is with us. We sit with clients in their crisis points, being present and accompanying them through desperate times and places.
At the same time Christ is literally present with us, as he was in the first century. The only difference is that we cannot see him, but we do sense him and talk with him.
Jesus is Present in Each Counseling Session
This is not just a theological truth, it is also very practical. Recently, as one of my clients and I worked on dealing with recent traumas, she had a sense in the session that Jesus was right next to her, a sense she had not felt earlier. That presence stayed with her, and was a constant reminder to her in the next week. She experienced Emmanuel, God-with-her. Now when she gets memories of the painful events, they are immediately replaced with that same sense of Jesus next to her. The trauma fades, and she finds herself calm.
As the Christian counselor considers and treats a client, we are fully with that person and we model the practice of being present for that person. To learn to sit with a feeling, a problem, or a difficult situation, without escaping into addictions, denial, or dissociation, is the beginning of a healing journey for the client. Sitting with the issue also means being willing to be in the present, neither stuck in the past with whatever happened there, nor fast-forwarding into the future. The now is where we live, where healing takes place, where Christ works, and therefore where we need to focus.
Christian Counseling Can Help You to Become More Present to Others
If God-With-Us, Emmanuel, shows up, fully present in our everyday life, then we too can and should show up and be fully present to others as well. If you recognize that you are unable to be present with your spouse or family, or struggle to connect others in your life, consider speaking to a Christian counselor.
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