An Embarrassment of Riches

(Previously published in the July/August issue of Live Magazine. )

(This is not my church.)

My church split painfully in two when I was in the fifth grade.  Between one Sunday and the next all the girls my age seemed to evaporate into memory with only their family portraits in the pictorial directory giving evidence of their former presence.  While God had preserved a remnant of peers--my cousins and another boy our age--I was suddenly bereft for female companionship at church.  Potlucks were ubiquitous in the post-split period as the remaining members of the congregation drew together for a sweetness of fellowship that can only be attributed to the presence of the Holy Spirit; a balm to the wound of fracturing.  But for my pre-teen self, many hours were spent wandering through the empty Sunday School rooms while the boys played floor hockey in the gym (hitting balls disturbingly hard to my way of thinking) and the adults talked downstairs.  I wanted to be a part of what people were doing, but the gym was echo-y and downright dangerous in my tights and patent leather shoes and the adults were talking, talking, talking about things that only made sense to me in retrospect.

I wanted a friend like a parched plant wants water.  One Sunday while I wandered through our now roomy building, I found myself sitting in the balcony of our hushed sanctuary and crying.  I prayed that God would send me a friend at church. If God had sent me a friend the following week, I doubt I would remember my prayer or His answer.  Countless Sundays passed without the arrival of any families with girls my age.  In a desperate play against my total isolation, I pushed myself to understand and participate in the adult conversations. I got to know my cousins better and grew comfortable in Sunday school, and then youth group as the only girl among the boys who were all like brothers.  I invited my school friends to come on Wednesday nights, but the seas of adolescence are tumultuous and none of those friendships survived the raging storm.  Like Anne Shirley, I longed for a kindred spirit. 

(But these are my friends.)

 Five years passed as I watched for God to answer my prayer for a sincere friend.  I expected He would send a girl my age, but God has repeatedly revealed that all my expectations are too small for the kind of answers that He delights to give. God made me wait for my friends so that I would undertake the challenge of conversing with adults and befriending those more mature than myself; so that I would learn to appreciate the boys as cheerful and forthright companions; valuing the community that God had placed me in rather than the one I thought I wanted.   Then, He began to send His answers.  Friends came from corners I did not expect. These women were not my peers, but grew to be my dearest friends.  If I hadn’t had to ask and wait and stretch myself, I probably wouldn’t have been able to appreciate them, indicating that I wasn’t ready for the friends God had for me. The waiting years weren’t meant to be idly passed as time arbitrary ticked away.  Like waves on a shore, God has been faithfully adding to my friends ever since.  My little church has become an embarrassment of riches to me.  Just when I think that God couldn’t have answered that old prayer more completely, He multiplies His answer again.  

One of our most profound hungers is for that of connection, but our human nature desires it through the easiest of pathways.  I wanted a friend partly to occupy and shield me from having to exert myself in groups in which I felt uncomfortable.  By delaying His answer a little while, God grew in me a love and appreciation for parts of the Body of Christ that I might have ignored otherwise.   Many Christians have forsaken church for a gallimaufry of reasons.  As a result, they wander as exiles looking for a utopian community that meets all their needs, not recognizing that perhaps God showed them the gaps so that they could pray and see Him answer above and beyond what they could think or imagine.  


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