There is a woman who sits across the sanctuary from me every Sunday morning at church. She reminds me of my mother when I was a child. Her hair is auburn and naturally curly. She has it cut short, in layers ending a little below her chin, but she wears it feathered back from her face giving it the appearance of being longer. She has hazel eyes that match perfectly the deep browns, rusts and burnt oranges she wears—colors for an autumn, like my mother was most of my childhood, until she was deemed a spring and so required an entirely different wardrobe of peaches, creams, and pale greens.
This woman has two girls and a boy, just like my mother had, although unlike my mother, hers are in a different order. It is her middle daughter who I like watching. She is maybe eight or nine years old. She isn’t thin like her older sister but she isn’t plump either—she is simply in-between. Her hair is brown, but not like her mother’s. It doesn’t have the warm red tints to it, nor the curl. It is thick and straight and she often wears it pulled back in a single low pony tail, wisps falling in her eyes during service.
She always pays careful attention to the order of worship, her hands clasped, forearms resting on the pew in front of her. Sometimes her mother holds the hymnal down at her level, holding it with one hand and pointing where they are in the song with the other. She watches Pastor with all earnest listening, ready to sing when it is time to sing, chant when it time to chant, pray…when it is time to pray. She looks directly at him whether he is reading the Gospel or preaching the sermon, as though by her gaze she will discover all the hidden mystery of what he is saying. This is a child, I know, who is filled with all the hope and wonder and desire to see God.
How do I know that this smallish girl across the sanctuary from me has such notions of seeing the One her parents take her to worship each Sunday? I know because I was her. I stood tall with my in-between build and plain brown hair—though maybe not quite so straight as hers. I would clasp my hands, resting my forearms on the pew in front of me, listening with rapt attention to every word my pastor said.
Thankfully the little girl of my attention has a more dynamic messenger than I had at her age.
What I often wonder about as I watch her on Sunday mornings is whether or not the God she looking for in the liturgy and sermon is making Himself visible. Or does He stubbornly stand in the shadows as He seemed to do when I was her age. I believed the words about God—that He created the world, that He sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. But not until I looked into the eyes of my firstborn son, did I understand that it was personal. And not until I was far away from my childhood home as a new mother and new wife, hanging by the thin thread of my self-sufficiency over a chasm I knew was waiting to swallow me whole and spit me out ruined, did I realize that if it was personal, then I had to actually trust Him…with everything. Starting with me.
I pray for that little girl with the mother who reminds me so much of my own. I pray that it won’t take until she is grown and failing—a mistake littered past trailing behind her—before she truly sees. I pray in her gazing, she finds that it is personal. He is personal and not some far-off savior who seems more like a judge, waiting for her on Judgment Day. And, I pray that in her finding, she is propelled by love to obey—obey her beautiful auburn-haired mother and her father with his wire-rimmed glasses. But mostly I pray she longs to obey the One who made Himself known to her at such a young and tender age.
I look over at each of my five children and I pray for them the same.
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” –Isaiah 43:18-19