Photo by MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Tampa Bay Times
Most mornings, from 6 to 8 am, Al watches the sunrise over the water from a park bench in St. Petersburg, Florida, before he heads off to work. He’s done so for years. I was captivated by his story in a recent article in the Tampa Bay Times (May 30, 2021) by Christopher Spata. The article stated that Al, 58, first came to the park bench years ago to sort out things in his life. It worked so he keeps coming back.
Early morning regulars at the park are used to seeing Al sitting on the park bench. Many greet him as they walk or run by, but every so often someone stops to talk, or sits to talk. Al realized his daily presence on the park bench was something important when, as reporter Spata writes, a woman told Al, “I know, when I see you sitting there, that everything is going to be alright.”
People often share their problems with Al, and Al says he just sits and listens, only giving advice when asked for it. He doesn’t consider himself especially smart, but he says he’s a good listener, stating to the reporter, “Mostly people want to be heard.”
Al’s onto something, something big. Al’s sitting on the park bench is a reminder that being a human being is more important than being a human doing!
The example in the Bible of Job’s friends is worth noting. Job experienced great losses and much suffering. When three of his friends heard of Job’s tragic state they came to visit. They sat with him seven days and never said a word; what a great example! They were three humans who were just being there with Job. Then, each in turn, started sharing their insights and advice with Job. They had been much more helpful to Job when they just sat with him, being with him! Even God was angry with their wordy ways of trying to help Job. When they transitioned from being with Job to doing for Job (by opening their mouths and giving advice) they stopped helping Job with his problems and began adding to Job’s problems. A footnote to the story in the NIV Study Bible states, “Their mere presence was of more comfort to him than their words of advice would prove to be.”
Yes, there’s a time to speak up and go into action. Sometimes, however, just showing up, just being with someone, just listening is what’s best. Al, sitting on his park bench, knows this. I want to know this too, know it so well that it’s what I do, be there for someone and listen!
The description of Job’s friends’ behavior, before they started giving advice, “Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” Job 2:13.