In March, The Ringer sportswriter Jonathan Tjarks wrote a beautiful article titled, “Does My Son Know You?” Apart from a miracle, Tjarks’s aggressive cancer means he’s likely to die before his 2-year-old son is old enough to know him. He writes of his hope that his friends will show up for his son in his absence. (Listen to Collin Hansen’s Gospelbound podcast interview with Tjarks.)
After sharing the article in our family group text, my sons emailed Tjarks to let him know that his hope has been their reality. In the 11 years since my husband died, his friends have shown up for countless games, taught our boys how to water-ski, eaten hundreds of barbecue plates, and attended long graduations.
Perhaps we were fortunate that in 2010 when my husband died, my sons weren’t old enough to have cell phones. These men couldn’t default to sending my sons an encouraging text—which is, of course, a wonderful thing. But a better thing was showing up every Friday for six years to take my son to breakfast before school, as one friend did. My husband’s friends did lots of simple showing up, teaching my sons how to change a flat, tie a tie, interview for a job, and use a light touch with a putter.
I hate to think what my sons might have missed out on if those friends had not come close. All our technologies that facilitate “staying connected” also conveniently provide places for us to hide, and it would have been easier for those men to hide from three grieving boys.
The ‘with’ part matters.
Keeping our distance through technology allows us to pretend we don’t need the physical presence of other people, but this denies the reality of how God created us to live together in our bodies. Rather than defaulting to social media to catch up, my husband’s friends have followed Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (emphasis added)—knowing that the “with” part matters.
Presence in Sorrow and Distress
Weeping with those who weep can be one of the hardest expressions of genuine love. Other people’s pain makes us uncomfortable. What a gift to offer presence in another’s mourning. In his hour of deepest need, Jesus asked his friends to pray close to him in Gethsemane because he yearned to be near them in his agony.
And Jesus rarely healed people from afar. He almost always looked the sick one in the eye and touched them with a gentle hand. Our hands do not hold the same supernatural power for wholeness as Jesus’s did, and yet, we too were made to offer comfort and security through our bodies. Our hands, posture, tone of voice, facial expressions, and literal warmth communicate tenderness and care, especially when things are hard.
Presence in Conflict and Awkwardness
Instinct tells us to retreat when there’s dissension or disagreement, but that’s exactly when we need to move toward others.
Jesus tells people in conflict to talk it out in person: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matt. 18:15). Looking someone in the eye and asking for forgiveness is both humbling and endearing. Reconciling in person moves us to compassion and restoration more quickly and completely.
Likewise, amid their shaming and blaming, Adam and Eve weren’t allowed to go their different ways when God banished them from Eden. God declined to separate the unhappy couple but made clear that their union was intact and their commission to multiply was still his plan (Gen. 3:16). It must have been awkward and awful for Adam and Eve to strike out into a hostile world after they had destroyed their earlier intimacy; how much worse it would have been to leave Eden alone.
Presence in Joy
Being together—“rejoicing with those who rejoice”—multiplies everyone’s joy. An invitation to a wedding or graduation is an invitation to rejoice with others. Paul tells us, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12). A trip to meet a friend’s new baby, a meet-up for an ice cream cone, a game of tennis on a Saturday afternoon—all reasons to come close, for our joy. Together we display the affection that Christ has for all of his people.
All our technologies that facilitate ‘staying connected’ also conveniently provide places for us to hide.
Certainly, we can invest in people from a distance, but technology is a gift only insofar as it facilitates togetherness rather than replacing it. During quarantine we yearned to gather because presence communicates what words and images on a screen cannot: I love you so much that I want to be with you. While enduring extended separations from churches he loved, Paul wrote often of “longing to see [them] so that [he] can be filled with joy” (2 Tim. 1:4).
Start Showing Up
Now that my three sons are in their 20s, their dad’s friends have become their friends, all because those men took the time and made the effort to be involved in their lives face-to-face. These men have demonstrated love through presence, the embodied affection that mirrors the kindness of Immanuel, God with us.
One day, we’ll experience fullness of joy in God’s presence (Ps. 16:11). But we don’t have to wait until heaven to get started. Gathering with other believers in the here and now is a foretaste of the glorious togetherness to come. Start showing up now.