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Seat Buffers and Singing

In the church I usually attend there is always room for a seat buffer. Always enough space to stay hidden and unnoticed. Always enough space to avoid eye contact. Always enough space to keep to myself. Always enough space to do my thing (consume) and leave.

Last Sunday I attended a small and cozy space, much different from what I’m used to. There was no seat buffer.

It. Changed. Everything.

‘Are you saving this seat for anyone,’ I asked. She looked up with eyes that were tired and simply shook her head no. She managed a small smile as I took the seat directly next to her. I might have asked her name or where she was from, but she was busy helping her kids settle in.

As we stood to start the service I noticed the color of her shirt and the heaviness on her face. She looked worn-out and sad, the way most of us look after long fighting the same battle. As she began to sing I noticed that it was difficult for the words to emerge, not for a lack of desire, but because it’s difficult to sing and cry in the same breath.

It felt foreign to share this vulnerable space with a stranger. I’m sure part of it was due to my own inclination for darkly lit worship spaces that make seeing each other impossible. A million questions stirred inside of me. What could be causing her pain and fatigue? Was it her kids? Her job? Her marriage? Was this her first time here? Did she feel out-of-place or welcome? Are there others just like her who cannot muster the words we sing this morning?

Those questions continued stirring in my head and heart throughout the service. The heaviness she carried was evident once more as she brushed passed me after communion.

Our collective voices filled the space with “Christ is enough for me. Christ is enough for me. Everything I need is in You, everything I need.” As we stood shoulder to shoulder I wondered if those words felt more like an empty lie than a source of life to her.

I stopped singing.

It felt wrong to sing words that seemed hollow and cliché as I watched her in her heartache. I stood silent for a moment, wondering if anyone else in the room was wrestling through the tension between singing those words and actually believing them. Because in all honesty Christ hasn’t been enough for me. And he’s especially not been enough for me when things are shitty. At least not in the typical Sunday-school-church-answer-kind-of-way that tells me I should simply be OK because… (insert your favorite bumper sticker or unhelpful cliché here.)

But then something happened. Instead of refusing to sing or giving up, I changed the posture of what I was singing.

Christ is became Christ be. ‘Christ be enough for me.’ I felt more honest singing that. It was a prayer not of arrival and answers, but a prayer of invitation; the continuous work of inviting God into all of the spaces that I don’t believe he is enough.

My mind drifted again to the heaviness and burden she was carrying. Singing for me became for her. ‘Christ be enough for her.’  A prayer outside of myself, a voice raised on behalf of someone else.

Before the song was over I found myself singing ‘Christ be enough for us.’  In some small way I wanted to say ‘I see you, you are not alone, we are in this together.’ There was beauty and holiness in wanting to share in her suffering.

So I couldn’t help but wonder. What if “Christ is enough” isn’t supposed to be something we convince ourselves of by singing it over and over? What if “Christ is enough” is most true and best displayed in our ability to really see each other? What if “Christ is enough” is affirmed and upheld in the way we raise our voices on behalf of our brothers and sisters who cannot muster the words? What if we are missing out on the sacred because we’ve grown accustomed to worship as something we do alone and for ourselves?

There will no doubt be Sundays ahead when I will not be able to muster the words we sing. I used to look for the most hidden place when I felt like this, but now I hope someone asks me if the seat next to me is taken. I hope they sit uncomfortably close and lift their voice on my behalf when they see I don’t have the words or the fight left in me. I hope they paint me a picture that Christ is enough by joining me in my suffering.

***Author’s Note: This isn’t meant to say I did something great or somehow served this woman. Instead, it was a transformational glimpse of what God might have been intending all along for our worship gatherings. That we might come together in this sacred space where it’s unclear if we are giving or receiving. And rather than waste our time trying to figure out which one it is, we allow ourselves to get lost in the mystery that it’s both and it’s better that way.

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    This is so gorgeous, so compelling, and so challenging (to be for others instead of just for my own preferences). Thank you, Aaron!

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      Steve, thank you for reading and sharing with others. Loving the sacred space you are cultivating at Genesis.

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      Thanks for reading Mandy.

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