Yesterday afternoon Handsome and I spent some time working at the church. It was just the two of us, and we had a short list of tasks we wanted to accomplish. But something unexpected happened that caused me to take a long, hard look at my own heart. I walked away feeling very different. Changed. Which is what church is supposed to do for us, right? Even if it’s just a work day?
Let me briefly set the stage by explaining that for us in this season of life, “church” is an elusive concept. It probably doesn’t resemble anything you normally think of when you hear the word. Just being at the building can produce emotions ranging from joy to anger, wistful melancholy, frustration, loneliness, bitterness, and then, either out of the blue or with some effort, bubbling hope. Overwhelming excitement for the future. Going to church is far from a mechanical weekend ritual for us right now. And I suppose that’s a good thing. God is speaking to us in unprecedented ways, almost randomly, with all the tradition and habit, all the human distraction, stripped away.
The day was mild. Warmish-cool with abundant sunshine, wide open blue skies, and a ticklish breeze. As we unloaded borrowed wedding tables and began mowing and weed eating the lawns, I was in one of the bitter moments. I had to consciously push negative thoughts out of my mind, and then I remembered the lessons about not resisting so much as replacing, so I fished for images that would inspire me. Images like a north-facing flower bed overflowing with fall blooms, a freshly painted church kitchen fragrant with the meals we hope to provide soon, and music streaming through open doors. I tried really hard to conjure up an idea of how things could be for us here. I gave thanks for all the miracles that have been poured out after prayers were said here. Because this mental tactic always works, my attitude gradually improved, and my energy increased. Then we got a visitor.
The elderly, retired pastor from the church directly across the street walked over and struck up a conversation with Handsome. He was there on a Saturday with the statewide conference for his denomination. They are long time acquaintances, these two families, and it’s good for them to reconnect. But the gentleman doesn’t really know what has been happening in our family since we lost Judy, only that we obviously are not having Sunday morning services right now. This begs lots of obvious questions.
My husband navigated the conversation with grace, I could sense this every time I passed the pair of men, but I knew he was being economical with his words. Careful not to plumb too deep into painful waters. Instead of stopping to join the chat like I normally would do, I continued working. Sort of rebelliously, to make a point. As the friendly moment turned into five minutes, then ten, then thirty, I grew increasingly frustrated. Handsome was being held up which meant that our stay would be longer and longer, no matter how much I accomplished on my own. My reverie about a healthy, fruitful church community was being eroded by all the things I wanted to be doing at the farm, all the fun ways I craved to spend our weekend. I felt more and more resentful about this interruption to our Saturday, about the fact that no one else is here to help us, about how alone we feel most of the time. It was a pretty gross downward spiral. I am good at those.
And of course, this perfectly wonderful elderly gentleman did what lots of men this age do, he repeated himself extensively. Most of the conversation was just him saying the same things over and over again, not really listening to his audience at all. Handsome nodded affectionately a lot, offered bits of answers when the man asked the same question over and over. You know. But I was impatient. I cannot stand for people to waste my time.
Friends, if that sounds really ugly to you just reading it, know that as soon as I registered this thought in my own mind I felt sick to my stomach. I am really ashamed to have even allowed the thought, but I’m sharing it now because it’s a big part of the story. I guess it’s also my confession.
So as the time passed and I forced myself to reign in frustration and bitterness, control my emotions better, God allowed me to hear a very important slice of their conversation. I abandoned most of my bad attitude and walked up to the men at just the perfect moment.
The elderly retired pastor and my husband had been sharing ideas of the two communities’ hopes and dreams for the future. How might we serve the neighborhood? Are we moving into the future according to God’s will? Beautiful stuff. Stuff totally worth some time on Saturday afternoon, despite the younger man’s selfish, hurried wife. Then I heard it, the quotable thing.
The elderly pastor was joking about how a church needs people, willing workers who can sacrifice time as well as money. Very much to myself I had a series of snarky thoughts on this subject. All I said aloud was, “Yes, time is the hardest thing to sacrifice sometimes.” Handsome and I made eye contact. He gave me a half smile and weary eyes. He knew exactly what I meant and is normally even more greedy with his time than I was in this moment. But at church, this is his rodeo, his traumatic healing more than mine. I backed down.
Then we pan back to the elderly retired pastor:
“The Bible says without a vision the people are lost. And then I say with the people a vision is lost!”
He have a long round of generous, warm hearted laughter then we joined him. He cannot have known how much I needed the exact combination of his bold speech and loving tone. Humor delivers hard things so well, right?
It sank into me rapidly. Musically, almost. Is it that instant for you? Without the people a vision is lost. It’s not scripture; it’s just one man’s inspired moment or bit of humor or something. But it does point back to scripture. Back to the New Testament lessons about the church being the hands and the feet of Christ. Willing workers giving of ourselves to act out His love on earth. And if our current situation “at church,” air quotes because it’s such an elusive concept right now, isn’t an example of how much we need this, I just don’t know what is. We have so many hopes and dreams for how things could be, how much help we could provide, but how will we do it?
The end of yesterday’s story is happy. We traded so many loving words with the man, this old friend of Handsome’s family, and reaffirmed our intention to both stay in touch and help each other along the way. Handsome finished his jobs and I finished mine, then we loaded up to leave right on time. Despite the very inconvenient interruption to my very selfish Saturday, it’s as if no extra time had passed. That’s how God works sometimes. He can literally stretch the moments and fill them with exactly what you need.
As for the question of how will we do it? The answer is: One work day at a time, with consistent obedience and more humility. If the vision is sound, the right people will cross our path. Or we will do it alone.
Maybe instead of focusing on who is no longer here, I need to acknowledge that we are being called here still. We count. We can do hard things, worthwhile things, and maybe without us a vision will be lost. Maybe that? Or maybe, keep the vision and the people will come. Maybe that?
Now I sound like The Field of Dreams. Sorry friends. haha But thank you for listening. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings to sort out. Thanks for joining us here and sending goodness and love! I am amazed at how God walks us through these seasons of life.
“She will hold his hand and tell him
God is proud of him for being a good boy on his birthday,
and that will make the world feel right side up again.”
The Five People You Meet in Heaven