Our Sunday morning service includes a time designated as Prayers and Concerns. Church members raise their hands to share prayer requests and offer updates, as well as rejoice in their joys with each other. Everyone is welcome to participate. Everyone. Even our children.
I am conflicted when I see their tiny hands expectantly raised high. I sit on the back pew, while they sit on the front row waiting for the children’s sermon, called Feeding of the Lambs. Therefore, I am powerless to give them the raised eyebrow, or menacingly shoot them the evil eye, or to firmly press a hand upon their thigh to dissuade them. I am encouraged that they feel comfortable participating in the service, and that they have empathy for others, hopefully. And, yet, I mostly feel slightly queasy that they are so comfortable because frankly there is no predicting nor controlling what they are likely to say. I involuntarily hold my breath and start praying that it won’t be too embarrassing. For me, of course. Not for them.
This past Sunday, Samuel raised his hand. Joel saw it. Joel called on every last adult and still Samuel patiently waited confidently holding his hand up high. With a slightly resigned trace of a chuckle under his breath, Joel looked down from the pulpit and said warily, “Yes, Samuel?” Samuel said with relish, “My friend (name) just returned from a trip to (his home country), and on the very first day back to school he puked all over the place. He needs prayer.” A subtle ripple of congregational laughter ricocheted through the pews all the way back to me on the last pew. Just fantastic.
Unfortunately, this is not the only time that topic has been broached outside of our own private conversations. Several years ago, we invited an older couple to our house for Thanksgiving. They were friends and church members who could not travel that year to see their family. We prepared our traditional Thanksgiving meal, and set the formal dining room table with our fine china and crystal and the silver utensils I inherited from my grandmother. We sat our children at the kitchen table with the cheap everyday place settings, of course, just as any holiday meal dictated in my childhood. You have to grow your way up to the adult table, right? Surely from in there, no disasters could occur, neither from breaking or spilling, nor any breaches of etiquette. Which in a very short time, I realized I had underestimated.
While sitting in the dining room with our guests, one of the boys left the table and for some unknown reason opened the door into our garage and our cat, Sterling, slipped in. Sterling stealthily padded straight for the dining room, and directly for our guests’ legs to rub on and slither between. Samuel ran in to grab him. Mrs. Guest –most likely humoring Samuel –went on about how she loved cats, and couldn’t the cat please stay inside with us?
Samuel, quick on the take, sincerely and emphatically said “Oh, no! Dad says the cat can’t be in the house because if he pees, poops, or pukes in the house, he’ll kill us!” Ah, yes. Words to live by from Reverend Cook. Love is patient. Love is kind. Unless the cat is in the house. Prayer requests, anyone?