The first time we visited our church I was comfortable as any visitor could be going into the church and attending the service. The place felt like a well-worn Hushpuppy loafer. Not too formal and stuffy. It felt good in there. The message was meaty and my husband and I both felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in the service. After service the Pastors and their wives would station themselves in the narthex and greet visitors as well as the congregation as they left the church. Little did they know that after service the exit was my ultimate goal! I understand the strangeness of that statement but for someone who doesn’t feel at home and welcomed anywhere, being plunged into a small, loud space with a lot of people I did not know touching and talking to one another all at one time was overwhelming. And even though we came back week after week the dilemma remained: how to get out of the church without being seen or touched.
Think of Mark 5:25-34 which is the story of the woman healed of the flow of blood.
The narthex was my place of restoration. Shame is an identity of sin that causes us to want to hide. I felt like that noisy narthex was a crucible and that everyone was seeing all of my stuff; my shame and sin. As people were reaching out and welcoming each other after a week’s absence to catch up or were welcoming new visitors, I felt overwhelmed and over exposed. I just knew that everyone could see all my shame and guilt as I desperately tried to navigate my way to the door. And week after week there was one person or two who would grab me, give me a big hug and engage me in conversation. With one eye on the door I would placate them and make small talk as I kept my eyes fixed on getting out. Once out, I knew I was safe. I could get to the car and go on with my day trailing that body of shame with me. I’d congratulate myself that I’d run the gauntlet one more time.
Thank God I found my way to inner healing and have begun to understand that when our pain outweighs our shame we can begin to seek healing! With loving care my prayer ministers have helped me to understand that the past wounds of shame can be renounced and those roles of performance and unrealistic expectations of image can be broken out of. Through loving prayer and gentle conviction I learned that I was not a mistake but a child whose heart had been missed by rejection, abandonment and neglect. As I learn more about my identity in Christ I have recognized my need to forgive those who have wounded me as well as forgive my own sinful reactions such a judgments and inner vows not to need love and care. Yes, it takes courage to seek inner healing and look at those places and things that stink. But we are called to live life abundantly and to seek transformation as well as sanctification. Jesus granted it to the woman in the crowd. Why wouldn’t he do the same for me?
Now I understand at a deeper level why Jesus identified the woman who touched him in that jostling crowd. He wanted to let her know that he knew where she had been and that she now had a different life to lead because of his healing. Because of my healing the narthex is not such a frightening place. Now I’m right in there welcoming friends and greeting those visitors. The best part of all is that I can now spot those who are desperately making for the door and I always reach out to them to welcome them with the love of Christ. Because he first loved me; I can now reach out to others. It truly takes one to know one. I am blessed to be on the way to understanding my true identity in Christ. I look forward to the narthex now. Just look to the left and you’ll find me in the Visitors corner. I’ll be watching for you next Sunday.