“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands…” -Psalm 90:17
I am a back row girl – I’m not much for crowds, so this gives me a little breathing room. I slipped into church last week one song late with a mild headache and found my spot. This was a loud Sunday, all-out concert style, and I couldn’t hear the guy next to me. Heck, I have great pitch and had no idea if I was even singing on key. I was a bit distracted.
Suddenly, a grumpy/frumpy, long-denim-skirt-clad, older woman diagonally in front of me turned around and GLARED. Cold, angry, long glare – the real deal – like my Mom did when I was 10 and she thought I might be lying. For a moment, I thought I was found out. She must be a mind reader and knows every thought and doubt I brought with me to my chair.
Nah, she didn’t look that smart, so I went through the obvious checklist – accidental cleavage (no – all covered), inappropriate clothing choice (maybe – denim capris?), cell phone (ah, yes, I use it to jot notes because there is no room to write on the bulletin besides decorating the letters). But then I wondered… Is it possible that the existence of the back-row-attenders – and glancing down the row, we were an interesting lot that particular morning (several amazing tattoos) – was just disturbing to her? Or maybe I was just singing way off-key.
Before I could decide whether or not to be distressed, I was joined 2 chairs down by a flustered woman in denim, lace, AND a little cleavage. She was about my age. Deacons were beginning to pass the offering baskets. When I passed one to her, she looked at me and took a moment to register what it was for. Then she started digging in her purse and cursed because she couldn’t find her wallet (the “S” word, just loud enough for me and scowling lady to hear – oh, my). But when she did find it, she emptied the cash and coin contents right into that little basket. No lie, turned it right over. I LOVE the back row.
Next there was the sermon about Jacob and Esau and choices and character, and finally a song about brokenness. This poor woman next to me was undone. Life has a way of doing that to all honest humans at some point, me included. I was feeling her despair and trying to decide if I should say something.
Then, it was over. We were being cheerfully ushered out the door with some more rockin’ music. But it wasn’t over for her. Now I was digging in my purse and silently cursing because I had no tissues to offer. So I laid my hand on this stranger’s shoulder and said, “I’m sorry you are hurting.” That’s all I could come up with (pretty lame). She looked me straight in the eye and said, “It’s all broken – my life, my husband, everything.” And she walked away.
Of course, there were staff and elders waiting on the sidelines to counsel and pray, which is awesome, but I was reminded that there are some people who are not ready for that. For this lady, walking through the door was a miracle, and I was the only minister she would find.
So, we have to pay attention. It is up to us, the regular, fellow-strugglers, to offer our stumbling words and pats on the back – or sometimes a sandwich.. I must remember that when I walk through those doors that it is for the purpose of fellowship, and often that is fellowship that I need to offer.
“To be called into the priesthood, as all of us are, is to be called to a life of presence, of kindness.” ~Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday