Recently, I spruced up my tagline on my social media bios. It says, “Lover of words, sprinkles, & wooden pews.” I think you understand the love of words, and if you spend some time with me you’ll know I have a very best friend who wants to throw me a sprinkle-themed party. And I will not stand in her way.
I tacked on wooden pews while no one was watching and prayed that if I just wrote the words, threw them out into cyberspace, that they would boomerang back to me with an answer to this simple question: why did I start obsessing with holding tightly every week onto wooden pews?
On my recent trip to Italy, I remember the first moment I touched very, very old wooden pews — it wrecked me. This ancient wood, porous and grooved, splintered and aged, sanded and polished, this wood stored memories and stories and secrets. I wanted to know exactly how many people had sat in those pews, had gripped on so tightly and whispered secrets through their fingers that the wood promised never to tell. Of course, we went on to see hundreds of wooden pews, some so shiny that I worried they had polished out all of the beautiful secrets that seep into the grooves.
At the end of my Spiritual Formation group, when I met with the same women in the same place, at the same time for two years, I made a promise to those women that included the words “wooden pews.” I promised that I would show up every week to the church that gave me a job and a home, the church that stripped away the light show and fog machines and concert experience that threw me in a ditch. At that point, some essays I wrote had gone viral, which sounds thrilling, and thrilling it was for some time. But as so much of my life unfolded on a screen, I lived a time zone away from my family who I ate dinner with over FaceTime.
I needed the real life wooden pews — and yet, I had little idea why.
And then a recovering addict sat one pew in front of me. That day, we had an open time for the church to share where God had worked in their lives, and we could join each person in praises and celebration. I think he came to church that day with his mom, or maybe an aunt or a grandma who beamed by his side. He said that God brought him out of his rock bottom and he proclaimed his commitment to recovery. I never saw him again after that day in the wooden pews.
Later, I realized that we have so many Sundays without time for big and bold public declarations, when we sing and listen to a sermon and participate in communion, and hearts stir and people have to just hold on tightly to those wooden pews, whispering secrets through their fingers and sweaty palms.
I am an addict.
I am broken.
I am worthless.
I am hopeless.
I have no idea why I’m here. But I’ll keep holding on.
How many stories are left untold, hiding from even the ones who need to tell them? How many people refuse to share the raw honesty of their stories, trusting only in the steady and stable wooden pews to keep their secrets?