It had been just too long. Speaking words that really mattered. Safe in a relationship of care and concern. Sure, she was surrounded by people day after day. But they couldn’t really hear what she had to say. Talking, talking: puppies, lunch, clouds in the sky, but nothing that meant a thing. Every conversation she looked for that silent connection, a deeper concern, a hint of true sympathy. But only shells of plastic people drifted back and forth before her very eyes.
Today, she had enough of the overwhelming silence. Finding a friend or stranger, really anyone, she had to just let some of this out. Looking for comfort, she had to listen to something besides the voice in her head. So, clutching a tattered raffia shoulder bag, she inched closer to the only place she could think of.
Immediately drawn to a face that looked like it belonged in that happy reverent place, she advanced. Smoothing her frazzled hair, she began to talk. Unafraid of judgement, rejection, heartbreak, she began to cry. Out loud her sentences sounded incomplete and broken, but in her head she recited a novel of unjust unanswered pain. Here she was, a stranger with so many words, looking for something. Usually, a stranger that finds us is searching for food, shelter, or some other physical need. So, during the last few minutes we spoke together this morning, I asked her what she needed. But what she said next made me pause.
“Church,” she said, “I just need to be where people will listen. You can’t go to Taco Bell and talk about this stuff. They would think I was crazy.”
And, she just dried her tears. She straightened out her grey “marathon 2008” t-shirt. Politely thanking me, she walked away. I watched her, wanting to do more, say more to keep her safe at the place where she came to seek comfort. And I watched her walk right into the parking lot of another church, next door.
The morning went on, as usual. I gathered the kids into the car and called out a “thank you!” to their Sunday School teachers. Waited for Grandma Suzie to cross the parking lot, and waved goodbye to the indecisive twenty-somethings that was trying to coordinate a plan for lunch. We drove past that other parking lot, where my Sunday morning friend marched on to get her next fix.
We are all alone. Maybe not always. But there will come a time when no one can understand. There will be a moment when we are talking, talking, and it seems like no one is listening. You might find yourself surrounded by family, friends, co-workers, but wondering who is really there for you. But this wandering woman has it right. The body of Christ is a people who will listen.
God gives us such a radical gift in His church. People who will break down in tears with you because they are just as sinful. People who speak freely about the wicked evil desires that plague our hearts and hands. People who will kneel, eat and drink forgiveness right next to you. People who will patiently love and listen. But in truth, we don’t really like God’s gift of church. We more often are afraid of the church’s judgment. We despise our lack of goodness in the presence of so many people. We fail to love and listen to others like we know we should. It’s uncomfortable, it’s boring, it’s downright hard to be nice to other sinners. So, for the body of Christ, the gift of church is not always a comfort.
But this emotional drifter reminded me again of God’s gracious gift of His Church. Even when I don’t want it, even if I don’t think I need it, even if I’m too ashamed to enjoy it, His gift audaciously goes on. No matter how bad His people are, no matter how much I struggle with my own issues, His gift is always chasing after me. Church is where I am never alone. Church is with a people where my conversation matters. Church is the Body of Christ, where He placed me, where He gives me His people to listen. For a woman who also often finds herself lost and overwhelmed, I am so incredibly thankful for His Church, the Body of Christ, and the reminder that we are not wandering in this world all alone.