(I wrote this last January ~2009~ and shared it on a listserve.)
Thought I would share this true story.
As many of you know, my husband does not attend church. He is not what most Christians would call a believer (although in God’s own infinitesimal time, little things happen that I consider hopeful….). So for the past, hmmm, 30 years or so, I have attended my rural CRC church alone. When my children were young, it was sometimes challenging to make two Sunday services with all three of them in tow and clean, but I persevered. There was an embarrassingly long period of time where I indulged in constant envy of the handsome and whole families who shared a pew together, where I stoked my anger at God for not changing Mark’s heart for my convenience (and his good), where I nursed resentment that God hadn’t made my children more compliant. It was exhausting pushing the wheelbarrow of self-pity to church with me every week while simultaneously pasting a smile on my face!
Time passed. Children grew up. I grew up. I got used to attending church alone. The church got used to my attending church alone. In his own time, God relieved me of some burdens and enabled me to carry others with a smaller bucket of self-pity and a more genuine smile.
Two weeks ago an older lady drew me aside after the afternoon service. She and her husband have been members for a few years now. I don’t know her well, but we have shared a casual conversation or two during coffee fellowship. Anyway, as she gave me a quick hug, here’s what she said: “I am so encouraged when I see you coming to church twice every Sunday. It must be hard to come alone, but you come so faithfully.” For an instant I was gobsmacked. It had been so long since I had thought of church attendance as a hardship. I thanked her and told her it was hard once upon a time, but now I have a lot more peace. I enjoy church, I told her, and my husband is generally supportive of my desire to worship and to live a Christian life.
It wasn’t a long conversation, but one that has since stayed with me. Here’s the epiphany. What if all those unanswered prayers of mine for my church attendance to be fulfilling and perfect according to my perceived needs were actually heard… but shelved for this woman’s need of encouragement at this time in her life? Initially that thought brings a surge of protest. Thirty years of disappointment and unrealized hopes and dreams for someone else’s spiritual encouragement? Would that be fair of God to use my life in that way? Is that manipulative or wondrous? Or indeed a wondrous manipulation? Can I open my eyes like Simeon to see a light for revelation? And what if my fellow parishioner knew how often I went to church mad, sad, and pouty? We pray that God will use us, that he will use our half-hearted and grumbling bits of service to his glory. Can we recognize and believe it when he does?
On the other hand, perhaps she was seeking to encourage me, and her comment was a gift, a God-moment, a word of divine affirmation from one sin-stained saint to another. Perhaps this was the day and the way God chose to show me how much he has changed me. Or was it both? An ordinary reminder of providence in an ordinary setting, that our lives are linked and we are the communion of saints; an ordinary reminder that faith grows, that the Spirit’s work and the Word of God do not return void.
That moment lit my world like a haloed encounter. We confess that God works all things for our salvation. So often doubt nibbles at my faith, but thanks be to God, today my eyes have seen.
Star of wonder, star of might, guide me to thy perfect light!