It felt like I couldn’t breathe. My heart felt like it was crashing against my ribcage… pounding hard enough to break something.
My thoughts were scattered. Everything in my body was buzzing, vibrating, trembling with a ferocity I couldn’t figure out how to stop. Trauma was replaying itself in my body. Things that had happened to me years earlier felt like they were happening again. I was terrified. Hadn’t I healed from this?
I sat on a curb outside the church I attend on Monday nights, trying to recall grounding methods a counselor had once taught me. I planted my feet on the ground, laid back on the soft grass, and went through my senses. What could I feel, smell, hear, see?
“You’re safe,” I told myself over and over. I recited Psalm 23. I practiced box breathing. I prayed. A friend called me and prayed. I did everything I possibly could to end the trauma replay. It felt like nothing was working. I was convinced if I could just muster my way through this, I could go back inside and pretend none of it had happened. Feelings of powerlessness collided into me like a tidal wave. I was drowning beneath them.
Help me, I whimpered to God. I need help.
The side door of the church building opened. I wrapped my arms around my knees, bracing myself. I didn’t know if I wanted anyone to see me like this.
A familiar face appeared and sat beside me… and suddenly I wasn’t alone.
It wasn’t immediate, but after sitting on that church curb in the summer air in the presence of someone gentle and kind, I could feel myself start to breathe again.
I had asked God for help, and what I wanted was for my body to find immediate relief, to cease shaking, to restabilize so I could go back inside and pretend everything was fine.
Instead, He sent me a person. Instead, He brought me presence. Instead, He provided a reminder that even in my woundedness – perhaps especially – I was not alone.
My friend K.J. Ramsey writes in her recent book, “Two things bring us back home from the bottom of stress: breath, and the attuned, compassionate presence of someone else.”
When I experience stress, I want to be alone. I want to work through things quickly and independently, proving I don’t need anything or anyone.
But what if God designed us to sit in our woundedness in the company of another? To not try to fix it, stop it, or ignore it, but to embrace our limited, finite humanity in the gentle, safe presence of an all-powerful God and another finite human?
It goes against everything in me to show someone my wounds. But sitting in the compassionate and gentle presence of another person showed me I was safe, exactly as I was.
When you are wounded and shaky, sitting on a curb on a summer night, you don’t want power or force. You want softness. You want gentleness. You want presence.
What strikes me about gentleness is that, contrary to what we often think, it’s not weak or passive. Gentleness is actually controlled strength. God’s gentle presence is with you wherever you go. He is strong and tender, all at once. He is like a father who is large and strong and powerful, but controls His strength as He softly and tenderly wipes the tears off the cheek of a child.
God is so present that He came from heaven to earth to walk with us; so present He gave us His Spirit and is closer to us than the skin on our arms and the air that we breathe; so present that one of His very names – Emmanuel – means He is always with us.
In His strength and gentleness, God bends low to meet you wherever you are.
Suddenly you realize you’ve never been alone.