Borrowing Praise in the Pew

Have you ever come to church in turmoil or sadness, feeling rattled, asking questions, with heavy weights and the wrong kind of fear?

I praise God for the many times this hasn’t been my lot, but there are enough times where it has been to leave a strong memory of what it’s like and to notice when I see someone who looks to be in that spot.

Everyone stands to sing and for one reason or another the words aren’t coming out. Maybe they’re choked by tears, because there’s nothing theoretical about what’s being sung, it’s all utterly real and has stunned you in the farthest reaches: “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ Name.” Or maybe they’re too dissonant to what you’re walking through. Perhaps singing, “O, Death, where is your sting?” seems impossible when you feel sucker-punched by death or its effects have dramatically altered the life of someone close to you.

Whatever the difficulty in life: disease, divorce, death, betrayal; this difficulty may leave us feeling very out of place in the middle of the worshiping body of Christ. But I’d like to share my experience in the pew during some difficult times. It’s a testimony of the Spirit’s gracious care. Through the tears or hardness or pain, God has reminded me of something very kind: His body is One. He’s put me in the middle of pew after pew of His children, some of whom are singing full-throated, robust praises. Some have their hands raised and some have faces that are beaming like light, unobscured.

Even when I can’t sing or raise my eyes, the soon-to-be-married bright young woman five rows up can do it for me. When I can’t lift my arms to clap, the 7 year old down the aisle can clap on my behalf. And when my hand is too weak to raise in praise, the man up ahead with a couple littles squirming around and a wife about to have another, can lift his. This is the body of Christ and each one of us is apart of it.

When one part of the body is weak, the other parts take up the slack. When one part is strong, it pours itself out for the rest.

There is a danger for the suffering, the danger of anger and bitterness toward the strong. It’s an attitude that begrudges them their faith and circumstances, and makes a mockery of it, as if to say, “If you were in my shoes, see how strong your faith would be!” But this attitude is like a man who has a broken arm deciding to break the other arm out of a sense of spite and twisted fairness. We are all part of One Body.

Praise God that there is an alternative to that kind of soul-shriveling envy. We can borrow the strength of strong. We can praise by proxy. We can give thanks that someone else is happily proclaiming the words that stick in our throat. We can say amen to the truths we know, but can’t speak.

And by God’s grace, there may be a day not far off when our eyes are clear and our hearts bursting when we sing with all our might to the God who is with us in the valley. Perhaps just a few rows away from us someone will need to hear our voice penetrating into their heaviness, they’ll need our hands lifted up, offering what they can’t, with their whispered amens to it all. And we’ll do it for them, because we are members of one another in this body that belongs to Christ.