Pew and Far Between
After dropping off our toddler in the church nursery, my wife and I walked into the crowded church service to look for a seat. I walked up to a pew that had one man sitting on the outside and an empty space that could fit 4 or 5 people.
“Excuse me sir, can I slip by you?” I asked rhetorically as I tried to slip by him.
He turned toward me to block my path. “No, my wife should be coming back soon.”
I looked at the large empty space beside him and looked back at him to see if he was joking. He was not joking. He turned away from me and looked forward, leaving me to find a different place to sit.
At the End of my Rope
It was such a long week. Taking care of a strong-willed toddler is not a walk in the park. It’s more of a sprint through the park filled with emotional breakdowns and lots of poo (although admittedly lots of fun and laughter too). I was exhausted.
I needed a hug, not a face-off with a bouncer.
I soooo look forward to each Sunday. It’s heavenly to have someone watch our son while we spend time with God in a contemplative service, especially after a hectic week.
But Back to the Story…
My wife and I found a seat directly behind Mr. Pew Hoarder. I tried to focus on the service but instead I began to stew inside. I felt humiliated and rejected by the pew guard. My humiliation turned to anger. My anger into indignation. I stared at the back of Mr. Pew’s head. It got uglier by the minute. Or I should say, I did.
The pastor encouraged everyone to turn around and greet those nearby. I stood stock-still… facing forward…waiting for the inevitable confrontation. At least, I was going to make sure it was inevitable. The showdown at the O.K. Corral was about to begin.
Mr. Pew turned around slowly and smiled sheepishly when he saw me. He put out his hand to shake mine. I didn’t move. I didn’t lift a finger. I just stared him down. He squirmed a little and said, “You know, I never know what time my wife is coming.” He gave me a forced grin as a peace offering.
It was a miserable attempt at an apology but I softened enough to reach out and shake his hand. I continued to stare him down as I pointed at the space beside him and replied, “I bet there’s enough room there for all of us and your wife, with plenty left over.” He grabbed the back of his neck and looked at the space beside him, somewhat embarrassed. He responded, “Yeah. You know I bet there is.” Satisfied, I nodded and looked away, releasing him from my death stare, and sat down.
At the time, I was proud of what I did. I stood up for myself. My M.O. for most of my life has been to avoid confrontation. But I was tired of being a doormat and I didn’t want him or anyone else to walk on me.
Still…I didn’t feel great. I wanted to stand up for myself, to treat myself with respect. But in the process I treated him poorly, hurting him as he hurt me.
Is There More to his Story?
Before the service ended the man got up and left. His wife never came. That was odd, I thought. I wondered what happened. Did he and his wife have a fight before the service? What did he mean by, “I never know what time my wife is coming.” Are they separated? Does she have Alzheimer’s? Has he been trying to get her to come to church for decades, anxiously saving her a seat each week hoping that today will be the day?
I wish I could say I thought of these questions as I sat behind him during the service. Or that I thought about these scenarios the moment he rebuffed my attempt to find a seat. But it wasn’t until weeks later that I finally sat down to process in my prayer journal what happened:
“Lord, be with me. Forgive me.”
“You are forgiven, my child. You are always forgiven. I love you more than you can imagine. My heart aches for you. I missed you so much. Thanks for making an effort to visit Me. I love you so much.”
“I missed you too!! Help me to have Your heart for Your children. How can I think of Mr. Pew?”
“He is not the man you see. He carries a weight that he cannot bear. Of loss and hunger for redemption and a fight against pride. He aches for more out of life but he is rudderless at the moment. He is easily overwhelmed and takes it out on others. He is lost, but not without hope. Can you imagine the feast I have prepared for him when he arrives? What a party it’s going to be! I look upon him with fondness. He is near and dear to my heart. Respect him for me, will you? Treat him with kindness for my sake. He is a man in some ways, but a lonely boy in others. He needs Me and I cannot wait to comfort him!
I couldn’t do anything about my actions in the past. But like the prodigal son I returned to my Father, always later than I am proud of, but welcomed by Him just the same. I decided to revisit the situation but this time treating both him and I with respect because I was with Christ.
“What could I say to Mr. Pew if I had a do over? Can we imagine the scenario together?
“You could say:
‘Sir, would you allow my wife and I to sit beside you?’… (He responds)…
‘Ah, I see. I understand there is no room beside you. Is there anything that can be done to make space for us or is this decision final?’… (He responds)…
‘It’s final? Well, when could we sit beside you? If not now, would next week be better?’… (He responds)…
‘You seem concerned if not preoccupied with something. Perhaps our presence is too much for now. I would never want my request to be a burden on you. If you see us again and there is space beside you, would you let us know?’… (He responds)…
‘Until then, we’ll look for a different space to sit. Thank you for being so forthright with us. The last thing I want is for you to be bitter and resentful as we sit beside you. I’m grateful you expressed your concern. You have quite enough to carry as it is. I thank you for considering our wishes. Until next time, I bid you adieu. Farewell, my new friend. May you never hesitate to seek what you long for.’”
“Haha that would be pretty amazing if I could say that in the moment, wouldn’t it?”
“Well, you’re saying it with Me in this moment. And now is the best moment of them all.”