During my formal seminary education and subsequent clinical pastoral education, I was taught to be a non-anxious presence, a calm, peaceful state of being. It requires putting aside one’s wants and desires in order to be fully present and responsive to another. It is to cultivate a responsiveness that is neither threatening nor threatened. This is not the natural tendency for most, and it requires self-awareness, patience, and intentionality. My pastoral experience has given me another state of being which I strive to embody: the non-judgmental presence.
The non-judgmental presence is focused and consumed with not condemning another, but opening space for grace and conversation that is Christ-like, even if it is too subtle for most to notice. It is to embody the presence of Christ in unexpected ways, offering love and mercy without requiring anything in return. It a sacrificial state where the one who assumes this presence understands that it might not bear fruit in their presence or at all, but scatters seeds of potential future relationship with God. We offer ourselves without expectation of repayment, or even gratitude. I came to discover this kind of presence without seeking it. I found myself drawn into relationships with those that many of my fellow Christians questioned, openly so. “How can you be friends with an Atheist?” “Why would a Christian, a pastor even, befriend a practicing homosexual?” These are just some of the demanding questions I have been confronted with during the course of my ministry. The answer is always the same: I do not care what identity someone claims for themselves or has thrust upon them by society, they are and shall always remain a beloved child of God, and I honor that. I have had my moments of doubt, so why should I reject someone in that place? I have sinned, so why would I condemn someone for something they do? I strive to leave the final judgment to God, and instead offer grace, as Christ has offered it repeatedly to me.
I do not agree with everything my friends and family think, speak, or do, but I love them for who they are according to the Lord. I pray for their embracing of this grace that is transforming me and my life, but what am I saying if I walk away from them simply because they are not at the same place in their spiritual journey as I am? Some walk through the dark valleys longer than others. Many wander off the path, even when their intentions are good. Grace brings us back. Grace offers us a second or umpteenth chance. I am not their judge. I am not the one who shall decide what their eternal status shall be. I am the one who is loving them through whatever they are experiencing, good or bad. I am the one who sets aside my personal thoughts in order to respond in ways so unexpected that the other cannot help but stop and reflect. I am not perfect, and I have moments when I am guilty of doing exactly the opposite, but I know that I am called to model Christ who came to save not condemn. So while others pile up rocks to obliterate, I dropped mine by the wayside so that my hands are free to embrace the very same lost sheep Christ calls back to himself.