My eyes were closed and I stood there in the pew, hearing a prayer being spoken but not listening to the exact words. My face began to feel hot and a strange pain emerged from behind my eyes as I felt the tears forming. I tried to maintain my composure – I was in church for crying out loud, and a random church at that.
My family and I had spent the past couple of days in San Antonio, taking in the Riverwalk, the zoo, the Alamo, and relaxing by the pool. It was our first getaway this year together and I was incredibly grateful for the time away from work and home. Sometimes just plucking yourself out of your own life and plopping down in another city can completely renew your spirit, especially when you least expect it.
As I stood there fighting back tears, part of me just let go. A single tear dribbled down my right cheek. I didn’t immediately wipe it away on purpose. I let it slowly roll to my chin – I even pictured it from the viewpoint of a stranger staring at my face at that very moment. I didn’t feel shame for once. I think I was feeling relief. Joy. Maybe even love.
I am not Catholic. My husband grew up Catholic, was baptized Catholic, and his family was very much involved in the Catholic faith. His uncle was a Catholic priest and many Sundays during his life, my husband drove into the city of Boston with his mom to see his Uncle, where his uncle would perform Mass for him and his mom privately. It was very important to my husband that we were married in the Catholic church. A couple years later our daughter was born and we decided to baptize her Catholic and send her to Catholic schools.
I’ve always felt out of place in church. Like I don’t belong. I grew up in a Presbyterian church, but went to chapel every day in an Episcopalian school. I had a lot of religion in my life growing up. But I never felt inspired in church. I didn’t feel closer to God because I was in church or because I took Communion.
In fact, I felt more like an ant or a robot. Hypnotized in a way, following along and repeating what words were to be said when they were supposed to be said. I remember reciting the entire service in my head, even the priests’ lines. I can still do it to this day, but I say the lines of the Episcopal or Presbyterian services in my head instead of the Catholic ones. I’ve been caught a time or two finishing the Lord’s Prayer outloud in a Catholic Mass – if you’re Catholic, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Add those to the list titled, “Brooke’s Epic Fails.”
I know many people may be offended by this illustration. Believe me when I say I that is not my intent. It is simply an observation. Because let’s face it, how many individuals are really tuned in during a church service, understanding their response to the Gospel, to the Offering, the Responsorial Psalms, and closing prayers? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the vast majority of people in church are just repeating lines subconsciously. It’s like driving a car with your eyes closed. Have you ever driven home and wondered how you got there? You don’t remember stopping at the lights, or making turns, changing lanes. Or maybe you meant to drive to a store, but it was on a route that your subconscious actually knew as the route to work…so you ended up in your parking spot at work wondering how you forgot to stop at the store?
The uncomfortable feelings I usually have in church made the tear falling down my cheek last Sunday that much more powerful. That, like, never happens. When I do go to church, the Sermon is the only part of the service I am fully tuned into. And even then, it doesn’t always keep my attention. Just being honest here, y’all.
The Father was telling us a story about the time he visited Jerusalem a couple of years ago. He was standing at the Western Wall about to insert his prayer scroll inside one of the cracks, as visitors do every day when they go there to pray. As his story goes, the night before, in his hotel room, he had written down on that scroll all the names of the people he wanted God to know needed Him and loved Him. The following day at the wall, he found a crack that he could insert this tiny scroll of paper. A young boy came up beside him and asked, “why wasn’t your name on the scroll?” The Father told us that when he looked into the boy’s eyes he immediately felt wonder and awe, as if this boy knew him. Apart from feeling a bit scared (because as it turns out, his own name was NOT on the scroll), he knew he was in the presence of Jesus. The boy didn’t say another word to him, but gently smiled and walked away.
In that moment, I knew God was speaking to me. I felt Him reach out.
I never put my own name on the scroll.
See, I’m the kind of person who always puts herself last. I’m a “yes” man. I take care of others before I take care of myself. I can usually be found doing something to help a friend or coworker. It’s become one of my worst habits. It’s rare that I take time for myself – to workout, to get a haircut, to watch Netflix, to get my nails done, or to even write (see my last entry, Two Words).
In that moment, God was telling me that He saw me. He inserted Himself into my pew and held me in His arms for the briefest of seconds. He knew I had been wandering, unsure. He recognized my pain, my struggle. And I felt instantly comforted and loved.
Instead of feeling ashamed of my tears, I owned them. I let them go; and I let go. God knows my truth, my faults, and yet I know He still loves me. I knew in that exact moment.