I sit in the back pew on Sunday mornings. Some people sit in the back to hide, to slip out the door while the last hymn is ending. Not me. I sit there because I love seeing so many of God’s people as I worship. It’s my weekly picture of heaven.
Every week, I see more sorrow than joy. I see struggles and frustrations, snapshots of pain—spiritual as much as physical.
I’d love to talk to these people on their way out of church. If I could, I’d pull them aside and emphasize this: God is full of grace.
To the mother with the unruly child—I see how much you want your son to sit in worship with you. This morning, he was noisy and distracting, and when you took him to the nursery you looked ashamed and defeated. You’re exhausted, and I’m guessing you think you’re a terrible mother. Please know this: God is full of grace.
To the disheveled man in your mid-thirties—I’m so glad you’re here. You smell like smoke and you’re a bit awkward in conversation, so most people don’t talk to you. You sit by yourself and don’t have a dime for the offering. It looks difficult for you to sing or pray or maybe even believe you should be in this building. But it’s good for you to be here. I wish we all knew our need for Jesus as you do. Continue to seek the Lord; he is full of grace.
To the parents of the absent teenage daughter—you’ve had a terrible time these last few months. Your daughter turned 18, moved in with her boyfriend, and turned away from church. I know you feel powerless and devastated. And now the empty seat next to you is a painful reminder. Please remember: God is full of grace.
To the teenage boy—I know you don’t want to be here. Your parents bring you against your wishes, and you probably can’t wait to be on your own. You used to love this place; I wonder what happened. You don’t sing or even lift your eyes from the floor. Maybe you think Jesus is irrelevant or just a nuisance. I’m praying you realize God is full of grace.
To the early-forties father in the front—You have a beautiful family, and you know it. You soak in the compliments about your children. You’re well-dressed, put together, and respectable. You’ve gone to this church your whole life, and your parents are pillars of the congregation. But while you seem pleasant on the outside, I wonder about your heart. I’ve seen the fear in your young son’s eyes when you correct him. I wonder how much obedience and performance and appearance dominate your thoughts. I wonder if you know that your need for Jesus is the same as mine. I hope you rest in our God who is full of grace.
I’m grateful for everyone in my church. We’re part of the same body. Don’t be scared of your flaws, doubts, and failures. We all have them in abundance. This is why Jesus is so precious.
We all depend on God’s grace. Let’s remind each other how gracious he is.
This post is an imaginative essay. I don’t sit in the back pew myself, and none of the people in the essay are specific individuals in my church. These characters are amalgams of people I have seen and known (and imagined) over time.