She slipped quietly into the back pew after the service started. The congregation’s song washed over her, calming her slightly, as she looked around the modest sanctuary through the veil of her hair.
The song came to an end and the worship leader told the congregation to shake hands with everyone around them. Suppressing a surge of panic, she hurried out the doors and went into the restroom she had seen as she walked in the church foyer. She stayed there until she heard the music start again.
Back in the same seat, she watched as the pastor stepped into the pulpit. Over the course of the next 30 minutes she chuckled softly, wept quietly, and finally rejoiced silently as he explained how much God loved her. The message was not new to her; she had just pushed it far away from her conscious mind. When the congregation stood for the invitational hymn, she slipped out the back doors, a little smile on her face.
She came back the next Sunday.
And the next.
The first Sunday of Advent, after the candle was lit, the first song was sung, and the congregation turned to each other to shake hands, she stayed in the sanctuary. She smiled shyly as people came up, shook her hand, and welcomed her to the church.
On the second Sunday of Advent, instead of sitting at the back, she gave in to her eager heart, drawn by the words being spoken about the love of the Father, and moved closer to the pulpit.
The third Sunday of Advent, she sat closer still. Something within her was calling her to go forward during the invitation. When the upbeat song began for the invitation, she hesitated just a minute, a bit frightened and excited. Right as she worked up the courage to step out of the pew, a woman in the pew in front of her turned to her companion frowning and speaking in a loud whisper said she really hated today’s music selections and asked heatedly what was wrong with traditional hymns. Her companion nodded sympathetically.
Instead of stepping out of the pew, she stood frozen. She hurried out of a side door as soon as the service was over.
On the fourth Sunday of Advent, she sat near the back. She still felt anticipation building as the pastor told the story of the angel visiting the mother and earthly father of God’s Son, announcing the coming Savior. When she stood for the invitation, again she hesitated to gather her courage but thinking about the rescue for her life that awaited her at the end of the walk down the aisle.
Just over from her, she heard Bibles zipped shut and a couple discussing lunch plans. She tried to ignore the conversation and go ahead to the front, but her heart broke and she stood statue still when the words came to her ears that he didn’t understand why it took so long to tell the same old story that gets told every year.
Instead of going forward, she hurried out the back door, holding in her tears until she got to her car. Sobbing with overwhelming grief from hearing the critical spirits from the same ones who smiled and shook her hand in welcome each Sunday, she started the car and drove out of the parking lot.
She didn’t come back on the Sunday after Christmas.
Or the next.
On a Sunday toward the end of January, as a group of friends walked to their cars, one asked if anyone had seen that shy woman who sat in the back. For a minute everyone tried to remember when he or she had last seen her. Then someone piped up with a suggestion that they all try out that new restaurant downtown for lunch. And they got in their cars, forgetting about her as they drove out of the parking lot to fellowship with each other some more.
“Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10:32-33 [NIV]