I had a hard time at church yesterday. I was feeling a lot of discomfort and even pain, and the morning had already been an exhausting one by the time we arrived. There were also some other barriers to my ability to enter into worship, and I found myself standing in the back, behind where the chairs are set up, leaning against the hospitality table.
At one point, a friend walked over and leaned up against the table beside me and asked if I was okay. “No,’ I said plainly, knowing that I am a useless liar. My friend quietly slipped his arm around my shoulders, and with that simple grace of touch came tears that quickly overran my eyes and flowed down my cheeks. My friend stood there beside me, and later his wife and son joined him, and they stood with me in my distance. They did not try to hustle me into a seat; they did not leave after a quick hug. They simply made a place for themselves beside me.
As the sermon was starting, I found myself able to move forward into the chairs, and join the rest of the congregation in our worship.
I later thought about my friends’ actions, and I realized that they demonstrated something we so often fail at in the church. We are so quick to hustle people into our pews or chairs and we too often lack the patience or will or the compassion to simply join people where they are, be it in their suffering or their disbelief. There are many reasons why a person may choose to stand off at a distance. Perhaps, like me, they want to participate but find themselves blocked by something outside of their control.
During the service I thought about packing up the kids and just leaving. The thing that stopped me? Two friends who didn’t force me in but who were willing to take themselves out for my sake.