…the parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water…(Isaiah 35:7)

The Power of Presence

By Rex Goode


In the fifth grade, at Lakeview Elementary School in Santa Fe Springs, California, I felt like I was outclassed. The school served a large population. Each of the elementary grades had three classes and they were separated by some measurement of ability. I came to Laveview when I was in the fourth grade. I wound up in Mrs. Nickerson’s class, which was for average students. The next fall, I was put in the above average class, taught by Mrs. DuPuis.

Mrs. DuPuis was an older woman, her thin dark hair turning mostly grey. She was short in stature and her teeth were in pretty bad shape. She had a manner that was simultaneously imposing, professional, and supportive.

One other classmate from Mrs. Nickerson’s class was moved up with me. I don’t know how I ranked in reading and writing skills with the rest of the class, but I felt like I was at the bottom of the class. I suppose that’s a natural feeling in a school where everyone is aware of the different assessed levels of students. Creating a hierarchy like that is bound to make kids compare themselves to each other.

There was one other more important reason that I didn’t think I was up to the challenge of Mrs. DuPuis’ class, where everything would be harder and more would be expected of me. It was my home life. At ten years old, I dealt with abuse and neglect in my home. It was not a safe place for me.

My mother was raising me and two stepchildren. My stepfather worked nights. I never really felt that he cared about me. I was somewhat afraid of him, but far more afraid of someone in the family who regularly beat and molested me.

At the time, I wasn’t really aware that my performance in school was related to any of that. School and home seemed like two different worlds. Trying to do homework in a home where you’re afraid to say the wrong thing or be in the wrong place is problematic. Consequently, I was often late in getting my assignments turned in.

After weeks of coming to school ashamed that I had not done my homework and was turning in things two or three days late. The way I dealt with shame was to act out in class. After a well-formulated remark at a fellow student, Mrs. DuPuis pointed me in the direction of the benches outside the classroom.

With my whole class discreetly watching from their desks, I thought I was in for a major lecture and a trip to the principal’s office. Instead, Mrs. DuPuis sat me down and asked me about home. I don’t recall the words she said, but before I could stop it, tears started to flow.

She took my hand and held it. I was glad that our backs were to the classroom and that no child would have dared to come to the window to get a better look. For a long while, we just sat there, me sobbing, her holding my hand.

She waited until I finished. There was no pressure applied for me to hurry. When I stopped crying, she firmly encouraged me to do better at getting my homework done. I had not told her about the nature of my home life and she didn’t pry.

She told me to stand just around the corner from the classroom and wait until I had composed myself before coming back inside. This gave the impression that I had been sent to the principal’s office for some good, old-fashioned corporal punishment. Mrs. DuPuis was smart. Being sent to the paddle was a badge of honor and made me a class hero when I returned.

I think that was when I first started to get an inkling of the importance of non-verbal communication, what I call, “the power of presence.” Those few moments where Mrs. DuPuis sat with my small hand in hers, not saying anything, really turned things around for me. It didn’t solve the abuse and neglect, but I was more ready for it.  I got my homework done in spite of the perils at home because I would brave them for Mrs. DuPuis.

I think that one of the hardest things for people to understand is that when a friend reveals a problem, there is no need to fix it right then and there. There’s no need to really say anything. Their presence can be enough, if they allow their body language to say in silence what would be lost if spoken.

I often wonder why it is so difficult, in our modern world, to understand the power of merely being present for another person’s suffering. We feel compelled to talk, to have the right thing to say, or know the solution. It is often not necessary to respond in any other way than to be present.

When I am in my truck, driving alone, I spend about 90% of it just driving and thinking. The other ten percent is spent on the phone with a hands-free bluetooth in my ear or listening to music. I like being alone and silent.

I know people who leave their car stereos on. It comes on when they start the car and goes off when they open the door to get out. They have earphones on when they walk. I prefer quiet or natural noises

I think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, with no one but an angel standing by in silence to comfort him. As it says in Luke, “And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him (Luke 22:43). Even though I like being alone and silent, I don’t believe that I am truly alone, nor do I believe that I am being truly silent.

I believe that even when I’m not consciously saying or thinking a prayer, that I am still in contact with the Spirit. I get this belief from the words of Paul:

<blockquote>Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered (Romans 8:26, emphasis added).</blockquote>

In my alone times, I feel like I am sitting in the presence of God. I feel like he feels when I am happy just to be around my family or friends, that I don’t need to say anything. I just need to relish the experience and be happy with their presence. It is not hard for me to imagine that God relishes being near me, that it pleases him for us to just sit together in verbal silence, but making the kind of communication that is good and healing.

Silence is a powerful too in groups. I’ve often seen when someone shares something that is profoundly difficult, not only to have experienced, but also to have shared. There follows silence that for some is very uncomfortable. For me, it is not. It’s good. Silence means something. It is the power of presence at work.

I have a challenge for you. The next time you have listened to a friend pour out his  heart to you, without saying a word, put your arm around the shoulder or hold the hand. Don’t say a word. Just be still.

You will be sending a message to the other person that you are willing to be present for his pain, that he is acceptable to you while in pain, and that even though you can’t provide a solution or say the right words, you’re fine just being with him. Think of these words to the lyrics to, “You Raise Me Up”, written by Brendan Graham and made famous by Josh Groban.

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.



(If you have an experience with this, please share it here.)

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2 Responses to “The Power of Presence”

  1. Ross said:

    Thank you Rex. What you went through as a child tears at me. I weep for my poor children and what they are suffering through. I know they feel like they are in hell right now.

    My younger teenage brother ran away recently. His football coach intervened and told him to go back home and quite playing games with our father. I said a silent prayer for the coach, he made a huge difference in my father’s life.

    I thank God for people that really care.

  2. Rex Goode said:

    Thanks, Ross. I hope things get better for you soon.

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