I’m Not Really Here to Worship (Or So I Thought)
I woke up Sunday nervous and weary. I quietly dressed and made myself breakfast and then headed out from my parents’ house, where the kids and I were spending the weekend, just as the sun was starting to turn everything pink and yellow. I was nervous because I’m always a bit jittery on the way to a photoshoot, and this was a kind I’d never really done before. And I was weary for so many reasons, just at the brink of my capacity. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but what would have hit the spot was a good, long cry over all of it — the joys and disappointments of the last few weeks, my own and those I was carrying with others, the frustration, the anxiety, the anticipation, the gratitude, the grief, the ordinary, and the unknown. All of it mixed together, mostly unprocessed, and needing out.
About twenty minutes into my forty-five-minute drive, I let my mind and shoulders relax a little, took a deep breath and turned south, the rising sun on my left. I was just deciding whether or not I should pull over to take a photo (it’s a rare treat for me to see the sunrise, even in the winter when it’s a bit later) when Ding! Ding! came a text from my friend telling me that she was running late and could I come to their house rather than meeting her at the church? And did I want coffee? I did want coffee, so I pulled over to text her back and tell her so. And while I was stopped, I rolled down the window to catch a few pics of the brightening landscape. I suppose in some other story, that would have been the point. I would have been arrested by the beauty and turned my day around. But the truth is, I was actually more concerned about having something not from the photoshoot to use for my 365 project, and I thought the sunrise would maybe do. In retrospect, I see that the sun that morning was part of the story I want to tell here, but at the time I’m rather embarrassed to say I kind of breezed past it. It didn’t penetrate my low-grade funk, and it didn’t really even occur to me that I should have any response to it at all.
I arrived a few minutes early and quick checked my messages. I had one from a friend who asked what I learned from the sermon, a good question that I mentally set aside thinking I wouldn’t really be hearing any sermons this week. I am here to work, not really to worship, I thought to myself.
Inside I found the delightful (to me) chaos of a family getting ready for church. I sat down with my coffee while the four-year-old finished his breakfast and happily chattered to me about familiar boy things and his mom went to fetch his two-year-old brother (his cough, as it turned out, too deep to allow him to go to church after all). On his way out the door, my friend, who had been unusually distracted with church business and such and had actually had forgotten that I was coming that morning, apologized that the sermon I was about to hear would not be one of his best. Don’t worry, I assured him, I might not even be listening; I’m here to take pictures.
A few minutes later, I gulped down the last bit of coffee, bid my friend a good morning with her kiddos, and promised I would check in before I left after the service and fellowship hour. As I walked next door to the church, I felt the nervous energy rising again, and when a gentleman greeted me at the door with a warm smile and a bulletin, I mumble-twittered something about not really visiting as much as just being here to take photos for the website. I slunk into a back pew, kicking myself for making unnecessary apologies about my presence.
The service proceeded what I can only assume is normally, and I soon enough found my rhythm, firing off a shot now and then, trying to think of creative ways to capture the people of this church. And then, sometime after the announcements and the prayers of the people, my friend (the pastor and also the worship leader) picked up his guitar and began to lead the congregation in hymn #334, which meant nothing to me when I read it in the bulletin. But it happened to be “Arise, My Soul, Arise,” one of my favorites, but more important to my story here, one that so quickly and fully returns me to a very specific time in my life, a hard and terribly lonely time that nonetheless I have, in retrospect, a good deal of affection for. I was flooded with gratitude that my life is so different than it was then, healed in the most significant ways, but I also remembered with fondness the nearness of the Lord in those dim days.
And just like that, my heart, so seemingly ill-prepared, so distracted and busy with tasks, was made to worship.
Perhaps what I am most struck by in all of this story is the specificity with which the Father drew me into worship that morning. I want to take nothing away from the beauty of the sunrise by saying that it was a common grace. But I doubt that anyone else was affected in quite the same way as I was by that hymn that morning — or by a drive long enough to let me start to breathe, by a glimpse into a morning craziness that reminds me of our own, or by a creative outlet for that matter. However he draws us, generally or specifically, or likely both, he created us for worship and he is worthy of it.