Learning by doing…
Recently while reading I came across a phrase and a concept that instantly struck a chord inside me: holding space. Specifically, holding space in my heart for others as they walk their path in life, especially when that path is a difficult, painful one. It is actually something I have been learning to do my entire life.
Sometimes I’ve described this concept with the following phrases:
“You are in my prayers.”
“I’ll be remembering you.”
“I’m thinking of you.”
“My heart is with you.”
During my work in CPE, I learned that the work of the chaplain is mostly about meeting and caring for people where they are, walking alongside them in their pain, providing compassionate presence, sometimes without words. It is often uncomfortable simply to “be” with another person, without trying to fix what they are enduring. We want to fill the silence with words, or noise, or activity. Often what is needed is for us just to sit with someone, quietly. These are ways we hold space for a person in need, or in pain.
I remember the morning a few years ago when my friend’s father was actively dying and ultimately passed away, when my friend and I sent Facebook messages to one another as she kept vigil at his bedside. Just four months ago, another friend and I exchanged messages and a photo as he lay with his beloved dog while she died. Even though I was unable to be present with these friends in a physical way, I was able to love and care for them…holding space.
The truth is, I’ve been learning how to hold space all my life…I just didn’t know it was called “holding space”. And that phrase may be one that comes and goes away, replaced by another “concept-of-the-moment”. I do like the idea, though, especially when someone is of a different faith tradition from mine, or from no faith tradition at all. Sometimes telling someone that I am “praying” for them might hold negative associations, if the church has hurt them (which happens so much more often than we want to acknowledge). Sometimes my own spiritual life is not such that I can truly pray…but I can always hold space. God hears what I can’t say, and the person I am caring for knows they are being remembered with compassion and tenderness. I’m holding several people even as I write this, people dear to me who are enduring pain that I cannot begin to imagine. I communicate as best I can with them, and when we are not talking or writing, my heart is with them…holding space.