Be kind and tenderhearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
She ended up sitting by herself, saving seats for some people who were running late. Her husband had taken their squirming toddler into the church lobby, while she held her infant daughter, feeling conspicuous enough saving seats, and perhaps even more so having brought babies to a funeral.
Before long, row after row was filling up with a community of mourners, all present for the purpose of grieving a man gone far too soon. He had been a father figure to the woman. The relationship had faltered many years before, but in recent months, thoughtful words had been exchanged. Even without those, she would have attended his funeral, however it felt to see so many people from the past – from a past life.
Sitting in front of her, she recognized a woman who had known the man very well. She knew her heart would be heavy, and, in a gesture of shared grief and compassion, she reached out to squeeze her shoulder. The woman turned, and without blinking, said, “I’m surprised to see you here.” No hello. No warmth. No shared…anything.
The hand, meant to comfort, shifted quickly back to the baby, thoughts now racing, heart-rate accelerating, eyes filling with tears. She wasn’t sure why it was said, but it was jarring. With just a few words any sense of being a part, however small, of a unified body, joined to do that particular thing of remembering and saying goodbye, was rattled. In the least, she felt very uncomfortable, and not a little alone.
Most of us have been there – hurt, to varying degrees, by the words or actions of one – or some – from within a “community” of one sort or another. Such is the nature of our broken humanity. Where people gather there are, inevitably, misunderstandings, jealousies, harsh words, power struggles, hypocrisies, falsehoods. While community, at its core, means “with unity”, it is within the context of community that we can feel most displaced. Wounds that come out of groups where trust was given can be catastrophic. In the case of church communities, untended wounds, and a lack of genuine connections, can even cause someone to walk away from faith. How tragic.
Yet God loves community, and calls us to it. Psalm 133:1 declares that it is “good and pleasant” when “God’s people live together in unity.” The very Trinity embodies this – three in one. Perfect fellowship, perfect community. God wants us to participate in that fellowship as individuals, yes, but also with one another (John 17:20-23, Hebrews 10:25).
When people can set aside differences and embrace each other – to live, to worship, to celebrate, to grieve – it embodies grace and brings God glory.
So, she thought about the man who died. She thought about everything he had taught her, and about his deep love for Jesus and, consequently, for people. She thought about the way that he would choose to laugh instead of taking offence. She thought about how he would sometimes say that Satan loves to stir up strife, and we must refuse to participate. And so she chose peace, and she chose kindness. She joined her heart, her memories, and her prayers for the devastated family with all of the others in that church auditorium…all of the others, even the woman sitting in front of her.
Reflecting afterward, she realized anew the power of even a few words, in conveying welcome or rejection, care or indifference, a blessing or a curse. She held her baby close, and gratefully breathed in her sweet innocence.
Professional photos of Jaylene Johnson by Pamela Penner Photography
Find Us (3:11) from Jaylene’s new album “Potter and Clay”
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