Case study #1: I knew a friend was feeling, as she would say, “hinky.” She was quiet, and that’s unlike her. She seemed subdued, when her usual self is effervescent, like the bubbles in soda pop that tickle your nose and make you giggle. I knew this, and I did nothing. What if I’m wrong? I asked myself. What if there’s nothing wrong, and I just told her I think she’s depressed. Won’t she be miffed?

Of course not. There would have been no harm in asking. I was just so stuck in my own problems that I failed to respond to her. When I could have been Providence to her, consoling, loving, helping, I didn’t. What do I know about what she should do, I told myself. I can’t help.

No, but I could pray. I could offer support. Being providential doesn’t mean you have all the answers. You just do what you can to help someone see her way out of the dark. And while I can reassure myself that my friend doesn’t need me, that she can get there on her own, it still rings hollow. Being Providence means being present, and I wasn’t.

Case study #2: My friend was conflicted, in crisis. I gave him safe haven, a place to relax and think. I gave him good food, a listening ear, advice. I provided “attaboys” for his insights, offers to help with his plans for the future. Then, he turned around and did the opposite. He put himself right back into the chaos he claimed he was seeking escape from. Again, I failed in being Providence.

Or maybe not. Maybe my plan and God’s plan are entirely different. Or maybe my friend did right. It is his life, after all. Maybe I failed to hear what he was saying underneath his words. Or maybe sometimes people ask for help when they’ve already made up their minds. I don’t know.

All I know is that I failed when I didn’t reach out, and failed when I did. This being providential in the life of others is a tricky business. It requires vision that I don’t have. Or maybe my vision is the problem, because it’s right for me, but maybe not right for someone else. The trick is knowing what God would want for others.

I know He wants them to be happy. But how do I foster that? I know He wants them to be healthy. But what are my boundaries? How far can I intrude into someone else’s life?

Maybe all I can do in the end is say, “I love you. Wherever you go, whatever happens, I will love you and pray for the best for you.”

I only wish it felt like more.

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