The Primacy of Human Presence

By Stephen Ministry Leader Karen Lyons

One of my struggles has always been rooted in the belief that I need to be something more than myself in order to be…. Be what?   Just to be…. 
My best guess is that that belief is not unique to me….. And so I share an experience…

I took part in a Stephen Minister Continuing Education session led by Allan Rohlfs, one of our church members. The entire workshop on the power of listening was terrific, but what reached most deeply into my heart were Allan’s closing words. He took them from an article written by a psychotherapist (credited below.)


The essence of working with another person is to be present as a living being. And that is lucky, because if we had to be smart, or good, or mature, or wise, then we would probably be in trouble. But, what matters is not that. What matters is to be a human being with another human being, to recognize the other person as another being in there.

When I sit down with someone, I take my troubles and feelings and I put them over here, on one side, close, because I might need them. I might want to go in there and see something. And I take all the things that I have learnt—client-centered therapy, reflection, focusing, Gestalt, psychoanalytic concepts and everything else (I wish I had even more)—and I put them over here, on my other side, close. Then I am just here, with my eyes, and there is this other being. If they happen to look into my eyes, they will see that I am just a shaky being. I have to tolerate that. They may not look. But if they do, they will see that. They will see the slightly shy, slightly withdrawing, insecure existence that I am, I have learnt that that is O.K. I do not need to be emotionally secure and firmly present. I just need to be present. There are no qualifications for the kind of person I must be. What is wanted is a person who will be present. And so I have gradually become convinced that even I can be that.

My prayer for all of us is that with God’s help we will know that we are enough.

Gendlin, E.T. (1990). The small steps of the therapy process: How they come and how to help them come. In G. Lietaer, J. Rombauts & R. Van Balen (Eds.), Client-centered and experiential psychotherapy in the nineties, pp. 205-224. Leuven: Leuven University Press. From