I’ve never been much of a boat guy. I’m drawn to the thought of a boat: the water, being outdoors, and the wind blowing through my rapidly thinning hair. Mostly though, I love the thought of having a good friend who owns a boat – and invites me to ride on it.
Boating has its own lingo that I seldom use, but I am familiar with the phrase “coming alongside,” which refers to one vessel pulling up next to another one, or a dock, etc. This image reminded me how we can do that for other people in our lives.
I can’t claim to be an avid reader of the Bible, but when I do, I usually read from Eugene Peterson’s translation “The Message,” because I understand it better and it can shed a different light on things sometimes. In 2 Corinthians 1:4, the apostle Paul wrote “He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”
Feeling God’s presence is something I yearn for and often pray specifically for. But if you’re anything like me, I want to be able to touch Him, or literally see Him standing beside me. As of this date, I have not been able to do that – and it chaps me a little, but I press on. I believe most humans have some desire for the touch or physical presence of other people. It can be hard to relate to Omni-everything, so the giving heart and spirit of others can be very meaningful to us.
You’re probably thinking of someone who came alongside you when you needed it. Some people are really good at this. It’s like they have an extra sense about it. They are not only consistent at “showing up” when called, but also have the innate ability to know to show up when not called. And showing up can mean talking for as long as needed, or never saying a word and just sitting next to you. This is a special gift and not everyone has it. We all know the well-intentioned soul that came to “help” and drove us crazy the whole time. They gave every bad cliché in hopes of lifting us up, but really made us want to put a pillow over their head … for a while.
The phrase itself evokes an image for me of someone in need walking alone. Then, almost out of nowhere, another person appears and starts walking beside them. They walk with different rhythms at first, but the longer they’re together, their steps become in sync. In the image, my viewpoint is from behind the pair for some reason and it’s always outside – usually a forest trail.
I imagine the trail in different ways: It’s either a worn path, which means it’s been traveled before, and they will talk about how to navigate it again. Or, it seems to be a path, but clearly hasn’t been used much. They talk about how to deal with something they’ve never seen … but will do it together.
As I get older I continue to enjoy the wonderful things life has to offer, but more time on earth also means experiencing more of the difficulties that exist – for myself and others. If we live long enough, at some point we’re probably going to be both of the people I see in my image. I have been that person in need many times and I thank God I’ve never had to walk the path alone. Not everyone has that. I’ve also had the honor of coming alongside others when they were hurting and I feel called to do it more. Sometimes it felt weird to do it – particularly if it was someone I didn’t know. I know you’ve felt the urge too, but weren’t sure how to do it. What to say. What not to say. Should I touch them? What if they reject my effort and try to put a pillow over my head?
I did some research and in the scripture I referenced, the phrase coming alongside has been translated from words derived from the Greek word “parakletos.” Other translations of this word and its derivatives are “comforter”, “advocate”, and “encourager.” All of these seem applicable for how we might approach someone on that path. If we keep these words in mind I believe we’ll do it the “right” way.
Everyone is walking a path right now. Some may have it easier than others, but all of us are going to face challenges. It’s not difficult to come alongside those we know and love, but what about those who don’t have anyone? Coming alongside doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment either. Let’s remember that the next time we see someone struggling and we know deep down they’re alone. WE can be the ones that come out of nowhere to help, even if for a short time.
Walk with them.
Help them find their rhythm.
Let them know they’re not alone.
And make sure they don’t have a pillow.