TITLE: The Power of Presence: Becoming Fully Alive
AUTHOR: Neil T. Anderson
PUBLISHER: Oxford, England, Monarch Books, 2016, (144 pages).
Freedom in Christ is a ministry set up by Anderson back in 1989 when he was a professor of practical theology at Talbot School of Theology in California. From spiritual warfare to being freed in Christ, Anderson shows us that we can break free from the powers of evil because Christ has already freed us at the cross, being an atonement for the sins of the whole world. One would have thought that such themes of triumphalism would carry over to all parts of his life, including this book. I was wrong. After 45 years of pastoral ministry, Joanne, his wife of over 50 years, was diagnosed with agitated dementia, leaving Anderson the arduous task of caring and constantly sitting by her side. Instead of "coming down" to her level, Anderson sees the opportunity as "going up" to her level, a sign of how much he treasures his wife. As he gets more involved with caregiving of her deteriorating state, his priorities change. No longer is he doing things mainly for himself but for her. No more vacations, day trips, movies, and all those ordinary outdoor activities, but more home time. Through the experience grows the author's awareness of the power of presence. This book is borne out of that deep reflection of life through the golden and gray age.
The six chapters in this book describes the love story of Anderson and his wife, how he learns to honour his marriage but to honour his wife through the difficult times of agitated dementia. Through the tough hours of caregiving, Anderson senses the deep need to pray more, to listen well, and to learn the meaning of presence, both for God and for people. The "Absence of Presence" is a contrast of what it means to be absent and present; and about the changing ways we pray. Reflecting on prayer out of fear, he shares about the need for love to drive our capacity for being present. Being or feeling abandoned does not necessarily mean the absence of a person or a pet. It also means the presence of evil that strikes fear. One way that he feels alone is when at 3am before each conference he was scheduled to speak, he would be visited by demonic spirits. These situations expose our vulnerabilities and also remind us about our need for God. "Suffering in His Presence" shows us that even in the midst of trials, we can experience God's goodness and opportunities for growth. He faces financial challenges as he was completing his doctoral studies. He had problems trying to get insurance to cover his wife's cataracts surgeries. With role conflicts and pressing demands, he felt pushed to a corner. That was when he received a revelation to begin the Freedom in Christ ministries. In "Coming into His Presence," he embarks on a journey of prayer, to pray in the Spirit and to let Scriptures lead him and teach him. In learning to pray without ceasing, he begins to thank God not for suffering but for God's presence in spite of suffering. By chapter four in "Ministering in His Presence," there is a greater sense of being inspired by the Word of God to care for his wife the same way God loved him. As he come into the Lord's presence, he feels the liberating power of the Spirit to do what God wants rather than following human tendencies. This capacity to see goodness and life out of troubling situations leads him to share a beautiful inscription that he received on one Christmas from a pastor's daughter. "Resting in His Presence" is essentially enjoying the presence of God. "Fully in His Presence" describes what it means to look forward to eternity with God. Bringing all of these into his caregiving and love relationship with Joanne, he ends with a list of affirmations from the Bible about being accepted, being secure, and being significant.
Many of life's most profound lessons often come at a personal cost. For Anderson, it is about his wife deteriorating health and his own giving up of the ministry he has come to love doing. When crisis moments like these arrive, one often has to make hard choices. Amazingly, Anderson is showing us that when God is present, even when the struggles are hard, God's presence will make it more bearable. More importantly, we grow in faith and trust in the process. While the subtitle of the book suggests a "love story," the book is less of a romantic expedition but more of a presence with God kind of a focus. There is a good reason for that. The author has grown in realizing that true peace can only come from God alone. The capacity to care, to give, and to love, must come from the Divine God. Only then can it be sustainable in the long run and more tolerable in the immediate moment.
Anderson's walk with his wife is woven into the various chapters of the book. It is a personal description of his own thought process and his struggles with transitioning from giving to caregiving. As I ponder upon the things he has shared, it reminds me of Robertson McQuilkin, former president of Columbia International University who resigned from his top posts and responsibilities so as to take care of his wife full-time. His wife was suffering from Alzheimer's. McQuilkin died a few days ago.
Life has challenges. God has not meant for us to go through such challenges on our own. He longs for us to draw near to Him, and for Him to draw near to us. The best take-away from this book is this: With the presence of God, we are never lonely.
Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.
This book is provided to me courtesy of Monarch Books and Kregel Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.