You are here

A Park Bench: The Presence of God



Craig McConnell

I’m dissociating in front of my computer under the weight of a deadline and a life failed (or so it seems). Feeling 14 and wholly overwhelmed by expectations, bills, this thing called “cancer,” kids I don’t get time with, and the regular maintenance a 40-year marriage requires, I yearn for clarity and presence, courage and strength and a Father’s validation.

And then, outta nowhere, I have an unsolicited and seemingly random vision or picture from God. Here it is…

I’m on a park bench, stretched out like a warped board, slouched with my legs extended out in front of me and my head resting on the back railing. It’s a beautiful park with large, grassy areas separated by a walkway slaloming between huge mature shade trees. I’m checked out, not really present, staring off over the horizon at nothing. Though I’m cognizant of my surroundings, there is no conscious thought. I am in that state in which you neither blink nor swallow; there’s no measurable brain activity and barely a pulse; you are alive but not present. That’s me! I am certifiably detached from life.

It’s midday and there’s a warm breeze blowing, just enough to rustle the leaves of an old cottonwood that’s shading me. The scene cries “summer” with the air full of pollen, gnat tornadoes, and the musty scent of fresh cut grass. In the background is the sound of sprinklers machine-gunning water over a flowerbed… chit-chit-chit-chit-chitachitachitchit. Straight ahead, a little to the left, is an old park table with four young women enjoying their lattes and the reunion they’re having. To the right, a bunch of pigeons are trying to enforce a clear pecking order while scrambling to eat a handful of feed someone threw out for them.

I’m taking this all in but am unmoved by any of it. It’s clinical; I’m an observer of life but not a participant in it.

As my vision pans right, back from the birds to resume my vigilant dazed and confused gape, I notice or sense something peripherally…right next to me.

It’s a person. I can’t hide my being startled by this out-of-nowhere stranger who’s suddenly sitting eight inches from me on our shared little bench.

It’s a man, an older man with weathered but not leathered skin. Actually, it’s God. I don’t know how I know, but I know. My new bench friend, The One True and Eternal, Just and Holy, Powerful and All-Knowing Creator God is right next to me. I’m a little rattled that He’s unanimated, silently slouched on a park bench, apparently killing time. He hasn’t yet said a word or even made eye contact, but I do notice a tear forming and then falling from the corner of His eye.

Outwardly, I’m unfazed! I don’t sit up straight on the bench or fall on my face; my demeanor and countenance remain the same. If you were to have walked by and seen us, you may have muttered under your breath the commentary, “Get a life!” 

There we are, the two of us sharing a bench for what feels like hours with nothing said, no eye contact…just sitting and staring off into nowhere.

That He is silent says so much. He is just there, next to me…with me... and I am in His presence and...He’s crying; and His tears say everything. From His tears, I know that He knows all that I’m facing: the losses and pain, the struggles and terrors, my failures and ache to live and love well. I can tell He knows, and knowing that He knows everything about me, my life and this season…moves Him. He’s crying with me, for me, over me. The tear is everything!

He doesn’t offer affirmation with deeply validating words. (“Craig, you have lived so well in this difficult season. Well done, my son. You’re so on the right track.  I love you! Keep it up.”) That he doesn’t offer that seems to say I don’t need it. Wow!

He doesn’t call me out, either. There is no exposing of another deeply rooted, profoundly governing, historic, and systemic sin that explains my struggle to live and love well from a heart of true adoration and worship of God. That He doesn’t go there seems to say so much. So, so very much. Apparently there is something more important than going over all of that.

I think it is about just being together.

 I could have sat on that timeworn bench forever.

It’s been so deeply encouraging to have a visual, a mental picture of a park bench with God sitting there—available, present, waiting and wanting my presence and time to chat or just be. Throughout the week, I’ll hear a simple invitation along the line of, “Meet Me at the Bench,” and I know it’s time, time to pull away and be with God.

It is good to have a mental picture, a place, a song, park, trail, His Word, or a piece of art where you and God can enjoy one another.

In His presence you do not see life the same; a Larger Story captures you, and the overblown small story of worry, fear, hatred, weakness, and pain cannot be preeminent. You see yourself as you truly are and will more fully be. Everything I need to live and love in a world that is so violent, parched, deceptive, and unforgiving is found in the presence of God. I have often sought God’s words, voice, counsel, understanding, guidance, and validation. Each of those is a valid and necessary pursuit to go to God with. What’s new for me, in this season, is to simply pursue Him to be with Him. To simply be with Him.

I can't tell you where I spend most of my time, but it isn't in the presence of God.  I can tell you that one moment on a park bench with Him is better than a thousand elsewhere.

Oh, God, extend the times we're together.