Friday, December 07, 2007

A Question of Holiness

My friend C. used to go to a Pentecostal holiness-type church. She tells me this story of when she stopped going to church: It had been a long week at work. Deadlines, overtime, high pressure. And as she was standing outside the church after the worship service, telling her friend about her week and how stressed she was, her beeper went off.

"Oh shxt!" she said, and tended to her beeper.

"I'll pray for you!" was her friend's response. And she didn't mean she'd pray for her to have a better week, or for there to be less stress or less overtime. She didn't mean she'd pray for her office to leave her in blessed peace on the weekend. She meant that saying "shxt" was against their ethical code and that C. was therefore a sinner and her friend was going to pray for her to be more holy.

When my friend C. told me about this, I was floored. Our church has all kinds of faults, but if someone's beeper went off and they cussed, I don't think anyone would mention it. And if they had just been pouring out their hearts about how stressed they were about work, "I'll pray for you" would mean something like "that you have a better week".

Which is the gnat and which is the camel? To me, someone who saw and heard all that and thought the only part deserving comment was the one cuss word -- that's abusive. C. hasn't been back to her old church since. And I have no idea if the whole church is that way or if it's just a matter of "one in every crowd."

Meanwhile, I'm still praying for her. That she stops seeing herself as "not good enough" (she was always prone to that anyway) and stops seeing the church as "the place where that one lady is." Such moments cause people to turn away ...


P.S. an after-thought said...

I'm sure I'd react the same way. And did she know her friend's real meaning??????

My friend was baptist as a child, but attended the Lutheran church for practical reasons. She noticed this: the Lutherans would be exacting about the colors of the seasons, the liturgy, etc. but loose with expressions that she had been taught one should consider carefully, such as saying, "Oh God" or "Jesus" when upset.

There is a lot of unthinking use of language around us, so I try to be not too judgmental when I hear something I rather not hear, but, nevertheless, language helps define our thought processes, and vice versa.

Drew said...

My wife and I have had issues with the "I'll pray for you comment" for years since more often than not it seems so insincere.

I have been dealing with Lyme disease over the past few months and the church we just joined does something different that "sold" me on joining from the get-go. The pastor writes a letter to the person for whom the church is praying and then the congregation signs it. That is then followed up by some kind of tangible action. We received about four dinners from the church over my own issue and even during the first two weeks my second son was born earlier this year.

The point is that the "I'll pray for you comment" is often a statement like saying "Wow, better you than me" or "I'm really not going to help you, but I am going to say this to you to move on with my life feeling much better."

I say, let you actions to support the other do the praying, and let your words to God be a private matter. I think Jesus said about that.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

PS - You know, there are people where that would be exactly my question, "How did she know her friend's real meaning?" -- but with C., she is an exceptionally good read of people. She's one of those people who can walk into a room of people and walk out five minutes later knowing more about the people than their best friend does. So for her in particular, I don't doubt her read for a moment on that one. She's very astute that way.

Drew: congrats on the church find there. Sorry about the Lyme disease! So what would your church do about someone who was overworked? Just curious.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF