Many of our neighbors’ experiences have left them wondering how to reconcile what they know of the church with what they know of God. They’ve tasted harshness in place of conviction, rejection in lieu of love, and isolation instead of family. Sadly, refraining from any local church involvement has become a norm for them.
With just a few lines of text, the relationship was over. Because I failed to open their messages, they notified me that my “email relationship” with their company and all its brands was “ending.” A humorous marketing ploy, the company’s response reminded me how much of our world today rests on superficial communication and tenuous commitment.
“Mom, I have an idea for a painting.” A spiritual representation of the restorative work of God, the picture had formed in my son’s mind during a worship service and included Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of dry bones. Though this most recent design was out of the ordinary for both Micah and his painting instructor, she willingly coached him from the beginning sketch to the final brushstroke.
My daughter and I were savoring a school musical performance we’d just witnessed while walking to our car. Our happiness came to a screeching halt, however, as we watched a man approach a waiting vehicle and denigrate the driver for failing to pull forward far enough into the student loading zone. The diatribe was brief, but painful, particularly because it took place in the context of Christian community.
Looking quizzically at my phone, I smiled as I discerned the message my daughter had texted. It wasn’t the words; it was the emoji. How in the world had such a small graphic managed to perfectly capture my teenage daughter’s sigh of impatience, roll of her eyes, and slightly annoyed tone of voice when saying my name? But there it was—the exasperated emoji!
For seven years, I was at home fulltime with our kids. While I did freelance work to bring in some income, I enjoyed the flexibility and routine of that season. Meals were normally served on time, I was able to deep clean my house regularly, and I enjoyed throwing baby showers and other ways of blessing others. When I returned to fulltime work, my state of normal changed, and I had to shift my expectations.
With her heart pounding, she leaned her back against the door. Her thoughts reeled as she thought through her next move. Accustomed to seeing men enter her doorway covertly, she wasn’t surprised by the stealthy moves of her two visitors (Joshua 2:1). After all, she was Rahab, a prostitute. But when the two men crossed the threshold of her home, their imposing figures indicated they were not there for business as usual. She now found herself face to face with two men of an altogether different kind.
As I drove home, night had begun to settle with an added veil of heavy fog. When the fog suddenly lifted, I found myself off the road and headed toward a patch of trees. I quickly slammed on my brakes. The low-lying branches of a large pine tree scraped against the hood of my car like hands reaching out to warn me of the ominous trunks just beyond. The dense fog had changed my perception: I had mistaken someone’s back porch-light for the streetlight I knew to be near the curve of the road.
I opened a letter from our mortgage lender and, instead of a bill, found a check! Our escrow account had accrued a surplus, and the bank had sent us a check for the amount. The previous month had been overly busy, and I had been unable to take on any freelance work during those weeks. But we strived to remain faithful in our giving, and now God had provided. I was holding a check with a value that exceeded what we had lost due to my inability to work more hours.
I do not enjoy being at a loss for words. I feel helpless when I can’t offer comfort to someone who’s hurting. Facing unexpected circumstances with a loved one is difficult enough, but sometimes we feel powerless in not being able to answer their question, “Why?” In our desperation, we rifle through our thoughts in an attempt to at least ease their pain. But those who’ve been through deep waters of trial can attest that the silence of a friend is more golden than misspoken words, especially when the attempt to form answers only produces more pain.
Reasons? He has many. As he passes several churches during his drive to the park for his Sunday run, he enjoys his solitude. In fact, he reflects on how he can connect with God just as easily—if not more so—on his own. But deep layers of pain, a multitude of rehearsed excuses, and complicated explanations mask a simple reality: Church has not been a safe place for him.
Tiptoeing around construction projects, I joined my husband as he talked with church members working on renovations to our building. As I waited patiently for them to finish, I noticed a little hole in my husband’s glove just below the knuckle of his finger. He explained that the guard on the high-powered grinder had moved while he was using it. The diamonds on his wedding band took the force of the fast-spinning blade. His finger spared, the only signs of the accident were the reduced size of the diamonds and the small hole in his glove.
Enjoying our evening out, we waited for our waitress to come to our table. When she approached, her cheerful demeanor brought an immediate connection, even though we had just met her. However, as our dinner progressed, my husband and I picked up on the self-deprecating comments interjected in her words each time she checked on us. Boldly, we spoke about God’s beauty in her and asked to pray with her. I was surprised the next morning to find a friend request from her on my Facebook page. Neither my husband nor I had told her our names or the name of the church where we serve.