Everything about our church appears to be normal.
A bell rings five minutes before the service. Friendly greeters say "hello" and extend a hand with a white program inside. Some pews are full, others are empty. The ceilings are high and the vestry is centered by stained glass. But after the announcements, after the children's lesson, after the offering and after the homily, our Pastor looks out at our small congregation and does something totally out of the ordinary: he asks for requests.
What he is really asking for is a fearless soul. Maybe it's because we've only really been attending for a few months, but each Sunday, I am amazed when someone stands to his feet and articulates a need or a praise with a clear voice and complete sentences. There's the answered prayer right there! You are unabashedly courageous and you can articulate your needs to a large group of people. What more could you possibly want from God?!?
It's my favorite thing about our church at the moment. I love that we are a community that shares openly on Sunday mornings.
Which is why I stood up. Well, almost.
I really wanted to stand up. I certainly showed all the usual physiological signs that I was about to speak in front of people-my palms were sweaty, my heart was beating wildly in my chest, and my mind was in hyper drive trying to create a coherent beginning, middle, and end to my unspoken speech.
But I just...couldn't.
It's too close to my heart, I think. The subtle reminders that there are cliques I no longer fit into. The Pandora's Box of social media that beckons for you to pry it wide, only to fill you with instant regret upon opening. The loneliness of a weekend with no plans, and not on purpose.
And then, Scripture.
Luke 18. A chapter from what's commonly referred to as the "Travel Narrative"-the stories and signs that take place when Jesus moves through Samaria, on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem. Jesus offers another parable about prayer, about a woman who asked and asked and kept asking for justice. "My rights are being violated. Protect me!" as Eugene Peterson puts it. What hope did she have? She was asking justice from an unjust judge, "who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people." It was an impossible request. But she did. not. stop. Even though, as my Pastor remarked, it went against conventional wisdom, in a time when bribing or taking justice into your own hands would've been a much more viable option.
All these things, the Scripture and the social media binge and the weekend loneliness-it was creating the perfect storm to nudge me onto my feet, but I couldn't.
So, instead I write it here:
Something happened a couple years ago that shocked me with pain. Not physical pain, though I did lose my appetite for a period of time. No, it was a much deeper wound. Deeper than skin. It went down to that place where memories incubate and instincts kick in. And to this day, it still aches from deep within, like it never healed properly to begin with.
If I were to tell you what happened, you'd tilt your head back a bit, blink once or twice, and say, "That? That's it? That's all?" It wouldn't blindside you, wouldn't bring you to tears or prompt you to nod your head slowly with compassionate understanding. I know because I've told the story (a lot), and I've seen the consequent faces (a lot). Given the facts, the pain just doesn't make sense.
That's precisely why it hurts like this, I think.
Because there exists no rational explanation why I, at my age, in my circumstances, would cling to this little rejection like a dying bird, watching and waiting to see if she might spread her wings again. And yet, here I am. Seemingly the only one who still cares. Who still longs for the broken thing to be healed, in this lifetime-not the next. I am not content to wait on God to make all things new, though I believe He certainly can and will.
I know the odds are not stacked in my favor, but I have persisted. Beyond the changing seasons, beyond the countless times I've been admonished to "let go", beyond the cold shoulders, my heart is still tender around this thing.
But maybe it's not injustice. Maybe it has nothing to do with the widow of Luke 18 whatsoever. Maybe I am just a glutton for punishment with a hypersensitive soul. Maybe Sunday's story doesn't relate to my Monday through Saturday life, except in the abstract. Those are bad conclusions; I know that now as I write them out. But on Sunday morning, they seemed like pretty dang good reasons to stay seated.
Which is why I couldn't ask my congregation to pray.
"Um, hi. Good morning, everybody. I'm...hurting. I lost a friend in a way that feels unfair. It's been a long time. I feel like God wants me to keep asking Him to heal the pain, keep getting on my knees, keep surrendering my control, again and again for as long as it takes. But...it's getting embarrassing, honestly. This isn't the Arab Spring or the government shutdown or war or poverty or oppression, it's just that I'm humiliated to still be here, holding onto this. I'm not the widow, but I want justice. So...pray for me?"
But I couldn't say that on Sunday, so I guess I'll write it here, in my squeaky rocking chair, alone and wide awake on Monday night.