My son had surgery Friday. Quite honestly, when I first heard he had to be put under and worked on I was terrified. Partially because when I took him to the doctor a couple of days before, I was not expecting to hear that, but mostly because I think that is the response that any parent feels when she is told that her child needs such a thing, fear. Fear of the unknown, fear for my child, fear what the doctors would find, fear if it went bad, my thoughts were everywhere and fear lurked in them all.
I attempted my best strong father impersonation as we drove home, but it was ended when my four-year-old told me, “Daddy I don’t want surgery.” I kept looking forward, unwilling to betray his fragile bravery by showing him my fear and simply said, “I don’t want you to have surgery either.” Then we turned the music up louder.
Well that first night was hard on me and my wife as we took the news for whatever it was. Next we began to tell people and to ask for their support. Soon people we did not tell anything to heard and offered their support and told us they were praying for us, or if they were not particularly religious they told us they were thinking about us.
And that is when it happened. It did not happen in a moment, but gradually. It was not relief really, it was simply less worry and anxiety. Such things did not go away, such things could not go away, but there was less of them. And I think it was the support. Every person who texted, called, sent a message, or looked me in the eyes and said, “Praying for all of you,” somehow lessened my fear. Not substantially mind you, but partially, and each partial piece of fear removed is significant, do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
It is as though I was pulling a wagon loaded down with stones. There were so many stones it was hard to pull the wagon, I struggled under the weight. Someone came by and took a stone by saying, “Hey, I’m thinking about you. Let me know if you need anything.” Maybe it weighed just a little, and there were hundreds of stones in my wagon, but when hundreds of people take a little stone out of the pile it becomes easier to pull.
I am often asked what is the point of church. What is the point of devoting one’s life to an ancient institution that is behind the times and irrelevant? What is point of taking time on Sunday mornings to come together when there are things to do and places to go? What is point of singing those old songs, or new songs, and reading that old book? What is the point? Well I am not a church scholar and I am not qualified to give answers to such honestly difficult questions. Instead I can say what I just learned about the church.
In a culture where community seems not to matter, where people barely know the names of their neighbors, where people are ever more connected and yet ever more isolated, in this world of television babysitters and Twitter addicts there is still a deep human need to be connected to others in a meaningful way. The church is a gift of God whereby we might have a place to have others on whom to lean. The church is a gift of God where we can be told others are thinking about us, praying for us, wishing us well, and in that simple way take a part of our anxiety. Each person does not take much of course, because it is not theirs to have, but a small part that along with others makes a huge difference.
I am not naïve enough to believe that the church does this well all the time. Sometimes the church gets boggled down with doctrine, and judgment, and finger pointing and finger waving, but the church is full of broken people and therefore is broken too. In Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms it is written, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” It goes onto say, “But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” Too often the church is like the world that kills those that will not be broken there are plenty of stories like that. But other times the church is the place where the broken pieces are put back together and are made stronger by grace. This week, today, I have found that to be true for me, and I thank God for it.