We as human beings love powerful images. We love dramatic stories.
They inspire us. They spark our emotions. We love a story with a beginning, middle, and end. A story told in an image of suffering or of overcoming. These stories and the images they evoke–or from which they are evoked–ignite passion and make us want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
But these stories are not the whole story. A powerful image is beautiful, but it doesn’t capture all of the moments that come before, or after.
Because life isn’t like that. Life is not a single story. It doesn’t have a good “arc,” a clear narrative structure, and a neat and tidy meaning or ending. Life is complex. It can be nonsensical. It can seem dull.
And this is the reality of the work of presence as well. For those of us who work for non-profits, we post pictures and share stories of the highlights. These highlights tell the story that is true, and that people are interested in hearing, but we tend to gloss over the other parts of the story. The parts that don’t seem like a big deal. The everyday parts. The cleaning of community spaces. The going to the senior center to volunteer and only one senior showing up that day. The spending an hour with that senior, talking at times and sitting in silence at times.
This isn’t glamorous, and hardly even seems significant. Not worth mentioning really. This story doesn’t make it to the newsletter. But my God yes does it matter. These choices, these small insignificant moments are what make up a lifetime. They are what makes a community. They are what build and shape our character, our sense of connection and responsibility to one another and to the people, places, and things that surround us.
The young man in this photo spending time with this senior has come to know her. He knows much about her story and he cares for her. When he dreams of what he might do to improve his community, he thinks of ways to create educational opportunities for this woman and her friends. He knows that she has much to give, that she has not only a rich past but a rich present worth investing in, and that she is not a charity case. And he knows this because of the hour he spent that day, along with the other hours on the other days that he faithfully shows up to meet her and her neighbors.
This is the real story behind an image. This is the reality of the way our stories as individuals and communities are made, even if it is not the way that we tell them.
It might not be flashy or sexy, but it is the real power of missional living: The power only found in simple, faithful, mundane moments.