Walking Our Faith: Mind your own business
Walking Our Faith
I’m one of those people who you see sitting in the front row at church. It has nothing to do with me thinking I am holier than anybody else by sitting up front or trying to score brownie points by making sure my attendance is noticed.
Quite honestly, it’s because when I sit any further back than the first three rows, I spend the entire service looking to my left, my right and every so often I turn and look behind me. I notice the toddlers who are being entertained with books and toys. I admire visitors attending a weekday 8 a.m. Mass before heading to the slopes. I wonder about the churches they came from — if their parish is larger, more conservative or more liberal. Before I know it, the entire liturgy passes me by as my mind wanders the pews.
Like blinders on a horse, I seat myself at the front of the church so I can mind my own business.
I was the lector at Tuesday morning Mass. The assigned reading was one of my favorite stories from the Bible because it speaks to the value of persistent prayer.
Hannah rose after a meal at Shiloh, and presented herself before the Lord; at the time, Eli the priest was sitting on a chair near the doorpost of the Lord’s temple.
In her bitterness she prayed to the Lord, weeping copiously, and she made a vow, promising: “O Lord of hosts, if you look with pity on the misery of your handmaid, if you remember me and do not forget me, if you give your handmaid a male child, I will give him to the Lord for as long as he lives; neither wine nor liquor shall he drink, and no razor shall ever touch his head.”
As she remained long at prayer before the Lord, Eli watched her mouth, for Hannah was praying silently; though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard.
Eli, thinking her drunk, said to her, “How long will you make a drunken show of yourself? Sober up from your wine!”
“It isn’t that, my lord,” Hannah answered. “I am an unhappy woman. I have had neither wine nor liquor; I was only pouring out my troubles to the Lord. Do not think your handmaid a ne’er-do-well; my prayer has been prompted by my deep sorrow and misery.”
Eli said, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
She replied, “Think kindly of your maidservant,” and left.
— 1 Samuel 1:9-18
As I read the familiar story to the congregation, a different perspective came to mind. Instead of thinking about Hannah’s persistence and her joy of ultimately receiving the child she’d prayed for, I thought about Eli’s wrongheaded first impression of Hannah.
How often do I make erroneous assumptions about the prayers of those around me? I see someone who appears to be financially well off in the pew to my left and think they have not a care in the world, not realizing that they are praying for a child who hasn’t spoken to them in years.
I see a family who is blessed not with financial wealth but with the wealth of having six children, and I wonder how they can adequately provide for so many, not realizing that they thank God every day for his abundant provision.
I watch the way others take Communion, if they lift their arms during the Our Father prayer, or if they slip out before the service ends.
How many times do I want to believe I have Hannah’s persistent faith, yet how often do I also look at others through Eli’s judgmental eyes?
But now that I have considered Hannah’s story anew, I want to be more compassionate when I hear my neighbor’s prayer request and even more empathetic when I consider the prayer requests I will never hear, spoken in the silence of my neighbor’s heart.
At Thursday morning Mass, Father Stephen spoke about the gospel story of the leper who Jesus healed. After the man was healed, Jesus admonished him not to tell anyone. Instead, the healed man told everyone he met of the miracle he’d received. As a result, Jesus’ ministry grew exponentially.
Father Stephen said this was an example of what we needed in our church: an outpouring of love and unity that would send others to share the good news they found within the doors of all our churches and in turn fill our pews to receive a new experience of Christianity.
What a difference we’d find in church if instead of believing the judgmental lies in our minds we pursued the message of love of Jesus Christ.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking Our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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