It felt like an old pattern repeating, I recognized the set of unhealthy steps each of us were taking. The best of intentions began the sequence, the middle is where things get muddled and messy. I realized where we were but didn’t know the right next move to change the progression, every option seemingly creating hurt. Stand up for myself and get honest about my hurt feelings could be reasonable options but when attempted in the past have furthered the problem. Remaining quiet and going along felt wrong as well, just another step in the unhealthy dance. I picked option three which was to let the hurt swallow me up and glue me to my couch, rob me of energy and thoughts about anything other than old pains and disappointments. Still more of the pattern. Then Sunday rolled around bringing church and I had to go because Chef needed me to bring him something and all my efforts to avoid were thwarted.
I walked in to the welcome area and this beautiful woman sitting behind a table jumped up and hugged me, even though she was in the middle of conversation with someone else. She doesn’t usually greet me that way, I don’t give off a “hug me” vibe. She stood up, reached out her arms and I went. Right inside the doors, barely made it two steps in. A gift of acceptance that asked nothing in return. I moved on to the sanctuary, found another friend who was busy scribbling notes. She shared that one of the songs from the morning felt like a prayer, she was preparing for the next service, said it was so powerful. I took it as a warning, the music is dangerous for a wall builder like me. Dropping my purse at my seat I went in search of another friend, one who could help with behind the scenes wedding food, one who doesn’t expect me to smile or carry on witty conversation when I am hurting. She gives me that gift while we serve, I asked for her help. I asked for help. A new thing for me. She immediately agreed, a 3 minute conversation with little details shared. She is a doer, someone who shows up and digs in. She understands brokenness, she understands that coming back is so much of the battle.
Services began, Chef was late as usual, too many people to talk to outside in the common area. He doesn’t avoid real conversation like I do. I sat alone as the music began, looking around for Janet, my touchstone when I am feeling lost. I remembered she was out of town, I considered what she would tell me. She would be proud of me that I came to church when I didn’t want to, she would make some comment about me talking to people. She would smile and mouth hello from her spot a few rows back. My ritual of looking for the safe friends around me, those who bolster me up and share their courage was another pattern. These are the healthy choices, the ones that can’t fix the other problems but change who I am and what I need. I had found other touchstones, more “Janets” in the women who worship around me.
The music began, that song surrounded me and entered my soul. I didn’t have a defense strong enough to ward off the message, God was determined to speak to me. I managed to hold off my tears, I made it through. Then my friend led us in prayer and one of our gifted musicians who oozes the Holy Spirit from his guitar and sweet voice began to gently sing parts of the song again. The tears began and I lost control. I sobbed in my seat, Chef held me, no idea what was going on. I cried, a catharsis finally. I opened my wounds at the altar, I allowed God to see into what I had been trying to cover up. I heard His promises. New pieces of a pattern began to emerge. After the service another friend rushed up to hug me, a sweet embrace to transfer some of my hurt, an acknowledgment that we carry the burdens of our sisters in this congregation. We are never alone here.
I am often a slow learner, I find myself hearing the lesson repeated but it doesn’t sink in until I am ready. Today I heard that I have a choice to feel victimized by the actions of others, that I can feel hurt or just know this is their dance. I can do the cha cha while they tango. I learned again that Jesus is with me in the hurt, beside me in my pain and He alone will heal me. These others in my life are not responsible for my feelings, not responsible for changing the patterns with me. Jesus will work on them as well, maybe one day we will dance together but not today. Right now it is enough that I stepped away, came back to my foundation and allowed the grace of my faith community to minister to me in so many unique ways. When I consider how to share the gospel, I think about the real meaning of that word, good news. I can’t ruminate on the bad news around me when I am surrounded by the light and grace of Jesus lived out in this faith community. The good news is that I have a savior who pursues me, stands beside me in the fire, heals me. That saying, “Dance with the one that brought ya,” just might be biblical. Swaying to this song today, praising God for His faithfulness and His children who share their gifts with me. I walked into church hurting, I left rejoicing. Pattern broken.
Jesus by Chris Tomlin and Ed Cash