It was so annoying....The two behind us in church today talked loudly through the music service, talked through the prayer, talked through the baptism, talked well into the sermon. And in the rare moments when they actually listened to the sermon, one of those behind us would laugh loudly at the pastor's jokes, so loudly that we'd miss the next sentence or two. I warred with myself inside: should I turn and stare meaningfully at them? Speak up? Shush them?
I'd seriously considered moving. There were empty seats ahead of us and empty seats to the side of us. But even as I thought of these possible moves, those places filled. I felt I was just stuck and I began to seethe inside.
I have a hearing problem. It doesn't require hearing aids but one ear has a 50% hearing loss. If there are two competing sounds going on (like two conversations) I generally miss the one that is deepest toned or farther from me, while being far too aware of the nearest conversation or higher pitched sounds. This day, all I could hear were the two voices behind me.
I read through the message scripture. It was a familiar passage, one of my favorites. I longed to hear the pastor's take on it. I read the first line used in the sermon, John 4:4 - 'He had to go through Samaria..." He was talking about Jesus. Why did Jesus have to go through Samaria? Why was it important that he be there at that time. I read further through the scripture and saw that he was there to save many, to bring hope to the hopeless. Finally silence fell behind me as the pastor got to the end of his message and asked one question: "On a scale of 1 to 10, where are you on the hope meter?" And behind, I heard a now all too familiar voice ".5"...Point five....How low a score that was!
Hope for the hopeless. My heart broke. Forget my frustration and my aggravation. Suddenly I was where I'd been many years ago, when I thought suicide was the only way out of the mess of my life, when nothing ever went right, when I had no hope and was filled with pain.
I stood there as the pastor prayed and asked "God! What should I do?" "Pray with her." I stood there paralyzed. What if she was offended? "I'll pray for her if she goes to the altar." I watched as she went forward and I stood immobile. I felt a tap on my back. The people next to me wanted me to move so they could go forward. I found myself walking forward right behind them. As I got to the altar this hopeless one turned, meaning to return to her seat. I asked her to wait. I asked her if I could pray for her. I explained that I'd overheard her (and how could I have helped overhearing?!) and that her 'score' had broken me. "I've been in your shoes. Please. Can I pray for you?" She stood before the altar with tears welling in her eyes and nodded. We walked back to the altar together and there I prayed while she cried deep heart wrenching sobs.
How kind of me? No...not at all. How good I was to listen to God? But I barely did. I couldn't hear him telling me all through that service to "Shhh, be quiet." I very nearly missed his need to use me to reach this hopeless one because all I could hear was my own irritation and frustration and yes, even my anger, as the conversations behind us went on and on. I'd spent my time composing a letter of complaint, even thinking of posting it on the church page... And then when I heard from God, when I'd finally silenced myself long enough, to hear him, I bargained with him, "I'll pray for her if she goes down to the altar..." I'll pray for her on my own conditions, Lord. She's irritated me all through this service. I can't possibly give up my agenda right away. And all the while He was telling me "Shhh! Child, be quiet! Listen to me...You have to be here just now. I need you to be here."
Thank you Lord for using me anyway...Thank you for being patient with me. Thank you for not leaving me as the hopeless one. Thank you for not giving up on me when I was stubborn.