Bruce Hulme, Lecturer in Spirituality and Practical Theology
Christians often discount themselves from the ministry of pastoral care because of a perceived lack of knowledge and skills. ‘What would I say? What would I do?’ Although knowledge and skills are important for pastoral carers to develop, even more foundational is the gift of presence that comes through two forms of availability.
Firstly, practical or pragmatic availability is the presence of sufficient margins—e.g. time, physical/emotional energy, finance—to enable a caring response to another’s need. We often succumb to fast-paced, frenetic and distracted living, leading to marginless, ‘just-in-time’ lives. When opportunities to care happen upon us, our response is limited if we are simply too busy, exhausted, or broke. A lack of margins is always a good cue to ask ourselves: am I living as a called or driven person?
Practical availability stems from living as called by God, rather than being driven by culture, others’ expectations, or our own insecurities. Only from such a centred spirituality can we attend to what is truly needful for us, and so create space that makes caring for others possible.
Secondly, personal or pastoral availability is the gift and presence of our very self to the moment, and to the other person in that moment. This arises from genuine compassion, which in Scripture carries with it the idea of tenderness arising from (literally) one’s gut or womb, the deepest part of our personhood. Such compassion comes not from a position of strength, knowledge or skills; rather, it is a gift born within us over time as we become willing to embrace our own wounds and powerlessness, and experience the compassionate and healing touch of the wounded hands of Christ.
No amount of pastoral care skills or knowledge can substitute for practical and personal availability, and these are things to which any Christian can attend. For more on this, see Pembroke, The Art of Listening (2002).