I never thought I would find healing at the Justice Conference. John Sowers taught a break out session on “fatherlessness” and it’s effects on our society. The part that struck an “ah ha” chord with me was not about my own dad so much as my Christian family that abandoned me during a hard season of life.

John talked about God’s heart being a heart of presence. He wants to be present with his people. In the Old Testament God is among his people (Tabernacle) in the New Testament he’s Emmanuel, God with us. Later Jesus sent the Spirit (whom Paul called the Spirit of Christ) to live in us. Through out Scripture God whispered and shouted, “I AM WITH YOU,  I am with you always until the end, I will not leave you, I will be with you.”

Promised Presence. His promised presence has sustained me.

I have known and experienced it in core of my body, mind and soul. In this way, what John was saying wasn’t new to me. But then John said, “That’s why the person who showed up in our lives means the most to us. And why the person who hurts us the most is the person we thought would show up, but didn’t.” He gave an example from the movie UP. This grumpy old man is not happy when Russell, a young boy scout, attached himself to his balloon ride in the sky. The grumpy man softens when he realizes Russell was trying to earn a boyscout pin so his dad will come to see him at the awards ceremony. Time for the ceremony came … each boy is lined up on the stage with their dad…except Russell. When it was his turn he looked out over the audience hoping his dad was there. He wasn’t. Abandonment is painful.

My heart leaped when John shared that story. It helped me understand why it’s taken so long to heal from being abandoned by my brothers and sisters in the faith. Steve and I served at a church for over 14 years. We were immersed in the lives of those who attended and those who served on staff. When we left no one showed up. (Okay a few showed up but not the ones we most thought would.) We felt abandoned. Abandonment is a painful human experience. Suddenly, as John spoke, I realized it’s so painful because showing up is a way we echo the Father’s heart. It’s the way, a way, we experience his promised presence. And when it’s withheld … it’s painful.

My experience has forced me to ask who I have failed. Who expected me to show up and I didn’t. I have grieved the pain I caused others because I withheld the echo’s of God’s heart. Promised presence.

God is with us. That promise sustains us. And we get to be God’s presence to others.

Lord, do your work. Mold me into a “promise of presence person.”