You’re not alone, I’m with you

Sarah Puls SGS

Sarah Puls SGS

In my life, angels have taught me the importance of just being with people, without expectation or judgement, writes Good Samaritan Sister, Sarah Puls.

BY Sarah Puls SGS*

Late in October when the bushfires were raging in the Blue Mountains and other areas of New South Wales, I had the privilege of being a Disaster Recovery Chaplain as part of the evacuation and recovery effort. I spent less than a week with the people as their lives were turned upside down by the fires which tore through their community. And in that time, I was moved and challenged by the resilience that I witnessed, but also the incredible capacity in the people I met to feel for others, especially for those who, in some way, were perceived to be in a worse situation.

I couldn’t count how many people told me that they were “one of the lucky ones”. They were people whose houses were destroyed, but had insurance and felt for those who didn’t. They were people who had been able to save their pets and mourned with those who weren’t able to. They were people who had lost their home but had a friend to stay with and were concerned for anyone who didn’t.

In those early days during and after the loss of homes and businesses, it was amazing to hear the outpouring of compassion and care from those in the community, and from people far and wide who wanted to do something to support those affected.

From the experiences of people I know who were affected by the Black Saturday fires in Victoria, I know that the devastation is much broader than property loss. The recovery drags on interminably. I don’t imagine that feeling like you’re “one of the lucky ones” is something that comes without times of doubt and grief and anger. So I definitely don’t mean to imply that there is all grace and no heartache.

As part of the team of Disaster Recovery Chaplains, my role was just to be with the people and help them to hold whatever it was they needed to hold – for some uncertainty, for others relief, for many a deep grief of all that had been lost. No one can take that away. But having someone beside you whose presence simply says: “I know you’re in pain… you’re not alone” can be enough to make it possible to hold it a little more gently.

The need to know that we’re not alone is a universal thing. And it can be an intensely powerful thing too, especially where nothing else is possible.

I often have the opportunity to spend an afternoon with people who are being held in immigration detention. For me, there are echoes across the two experiences – echoes that are profoundly unnerving if I really reflect on them. Because what they teach me is that, in the end, the gift that is given is not a thing, or even our skill – although sharing those matters a lot. But when I look deeper, what remains is just my capacity to sit alongside someone in pain and, in my own helplessness and frustration, continue to simply say “I’m with you”.

Everyone understands these things in their own way, but for me, the experience in both situations is a very simple and very profound ministry of presence. I am, in most ways, helpless to change anything about the loss, grief, fear and heartache of the people I am with.

I cannot un-burn a house and undo the loss, nor can I take away the experience of terror in the face of an enormous bushfire. I cannot change a situation of persecution to allow a person to return to their home country, nor can I free them from detention.

For me, being effective in ministry with people who are experiencing pain, trauma and grief has made me very aware of the fundamental sacredness of the encounters I have each day. As I reflected on this, and remembered in prayer those I had been with, I was reminded of the letter to the Hebrews which recommends that we “not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

Hospitality might be a cup of tea, a listening ear or a willingness to put aside my own concerns to really be present to the person who stands before me. In the evacuation centre my experience of being present for and with the ‘strangers’ I met led me to a deep awareness of their roles as angels in my life.

I remember as a kid in primary school asking what an angel is and being told that an angel is a messenger from God. Looking back at that very simple explanation, I think it still is the best I know. Those angels might be someone who brings us news we need to hear, or wakes us to see a reality that is before us, or challenges us to continue on the path of truth. Being with the bushfire-affected people, and with those detained at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, I am surprised by how often I am able to recognise, usually in hindsight, that I have been entertaining angels.

In my life, angels have taught me the importance of just being with people, without expectation or judgement. They have taught me that the gift that I bring to their lives is not about doing but about being. And they have given me the chance to recognise the remarkable gift in my own life of having someone who can stand beside you in difficult times and simply say: “I know you’re in pain”, “you’re not alone” and “I’m with you”.

* Good Samaritan Sister, Sarah Puls is the Co-ordinator of Good Samaritan Social Response – Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Human Trafficking. She trained as a social worker and has been involved in providing support to people seeking asylum.

You can follow Sarah Puls on Twitter at

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The Good Oil, November 19, 2013. If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.

11 Responses to “You’re not alone, I’m with you”

  1. Una says:

    Dear Sarah, Your ministry reflections are very encouraging, especially in view of the brevity of so many of our encounters with people.
    As I read your contribution and the comments of readers, I was reminded of a verse I came across a long time ago, which I enclose here…………
    When I ask you to listen, you start by giving me advice.
    – you have not done what I asked.
    When I ask you to listen to me, you begin to tell me why
    I shouldn’t feel that way; so you trample on my feelings.
    When I ask you to listen to me, and you feel you have
    to DO something to solve my problem, you have failed me,
    – strange as that may seem…… LISTEN,
    All I ask is that you listen, – not talk or do – just hear me.

  2. elizabeth vasta says:

    Thank you Sarah. It is provocative to me to think of angels in these contexts. seems can take loads: unknown powers. Blessings on you and your people.

  3. Tom Sobb says:

    An excellent article with much to think about. Thanks Sarah.

  4. Edwina says:

    Just loved this Sarah. Thanks for bringing this message!

  5. ameria Etuare says:

    Thank you Sarah for your interesting reflection about your ministry. I learnt from your sharing that Being is more important than Doing. Good reflection Sarah.

    thank you.

  6. Lawrie O'Toole says:

    Sarah, We read your article tonight at a Parish Bereavement Meeting for our formation. Thanks.

  7. Thank you Sarah for this sobering yet simple reminder of how we can be a gift to those in need. Marie.

  8. Marie Jones says:

    Sarah, just a big thank-you for being you, for what you do, and for the great way that you can express such ‘good things’.

  9. Gerri Boylan says:

    You have the gift of being fully present to others, Sarah.
    Thank you for contributing so generously and mindfully to the poor in our world.

  10. Annie Dixon says:

    Thanks Sarah for the gift of you !

  11. Jane Marshall says:

    Sarah, a beautiful deep and rich reflection.
    The gift of BEING PRESENT is such a gift and yet so often we are too busy for that, leaving so many alone and isolated.
    Being with people in that moment can be so healing and comforting.

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