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Pain & the Importance of Proximity

With modern technology, we can pick up our phones and call, text, or video chat almost anyone in our lives.

But do we?

Mental health crises are on the rise, loneliness is endemic, and close friendships appear to be dwindling or, at the very least, increasingly fragile. We’re retreating into ourselves. And that includes within the church.

It wasn’t always like this.

When I was a kid, we used to “visit with” people. Maybe this is a Midwestern quirk, but my parents would call up someone we knew. The calls always started the same way: “Are you going to be home in a little bit?” This was especially common on Sunday afternoons.

I can’t remember the conversations, but I remember the faces. We “visited with” shut-ins, nursing home residents, hospital patients, and many others. As a family, we experienced the pain of surgeries, cancer treatments, car accidents, and strokes. Sometimes, it was the pain of a family member. Often, it was a brother or sister in Christ. My parents used those moments to share life and experiences. They brought laughter and listened well.


“The calls always started the same way: ‘Are you going to be home in a little bit?'”


Today, this may seem like an intrusion. And to some, it would be. I can hear the objections. “You want me to invite myself over to someone’s house? Everyone’s busy. They’ll just say no or want to reschedule. Sunday is time for our family.”

Friend, hurting people may not say no.

Video chats, phone calls, text messages, and emails are amazing tools. They have their place, and I hope you use them to speak truth and love. But, remotely, one thing will always be missing—your presence. There’s power in spending time with people.

We’ve all heard that, as the body of Christ, we act as His hands and feet on earth. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He walked toward people–the struggling and broken, the downcast and forgotten, the sick and lonely. His hands served all of them, and they bear scars of sacrifice that redeemed all of us.

Physical proximity allows us to love as Jesus loved. It reinforces an encouraging word with your presence. Instead of saying you’ll pray with someone, what if you scheduled time to meet in person and lifted up their burdens, side-by-side, hand on their shoulder? What if you left your phone in the car the next time you grab coffee with someone, so you can better focus on the conversation?


“Physical proximity allows us to love as Jesus loved.”


There’s an honesty and vulnerability that comes with shared presence. Someone may play down their struggles on a quick phone call. Being with them allows you to pick up on nonverbal cues that point to the truth.

Walking toward people isn’t always easy, especially when we’re hurting ourselves. Dementia isn’t pretty. Cancer is devastating. Single parents carry a heavy load. ICUs and funeral homes are painful places—even for Christians.

But I’m confident that’s where Jesus would be.

As His disciples, how can we wall ourselves off from other people’s pain? If there were ever a hill to die on, it’s loving others well. Jesus died on that hill.

If you surrender your schedule and priorities—or your family’s, I believe you’ll be blessed. Loving the hurting isn’t a curse. You’ll be stretched beyond comfort, and on earth, your actions may go unrewarded and unappreciated. But you’ll be doing the will of your Heavenly Father and bearing fruit eternally. There’s so much fulfillment and peace to be found in that.


“As His disciples, how can we wall ourselves off from other people’s pain?”


I sat across from a friend recently who’s lost most of their relationships. Unfortunately, they reached a point where their antidepressant dosage had to be doubled. And, throughout that dinner, as I tried to encourage them, they ministered to me through the pain of a lost friendship. My struggles are a drop in the ocean compared to the grief they’ve experienced over many years. I got close enough to hear their pain, and we both left with a little hope to keep going.

Who’s hurting in your life? Are you walking toward them?

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