I went to church this morning after a little while away.
Sat in the “centre block” of seats and at the back, I noticed a young lady and her boyfriend sat on the “right block” of seats and a few rows in front of me.
It was obvious that they were not the typical students or young professionals that make up the demographic of our church. The girl had tied herself a high top-of-the-head bun, and the guy had a tattoo on his neck. Both of them were in track suit bottoms- very typical of the average lower-working class person in our city’s streets. My assumption was that they were probably non Christians from the community that our church has recently moved into. They had probably been invited by the group of church members who have been knocking on doors recently to introduce ourselves to our new neighbours.
I could not help but be distracted by them. I wondered if they understood everything we were doing in church. Did they know what it means to pray? Did they find it weird that we were all singing at the top of our voices? Could they understand the vocabulary and language used in some of the songs? Did they hate that they were obliged to stand for the first 20 minutes of the service (We had 3 songs and some prayer, thus the period of standing)? Were they totally bored? Can Christ really soften hardened hearts?
I noticed that the girl sat down half-way through our singing. She looked bored. She and her boyfriend then left the service hall for about 10 minutes. They returned with some brochures and were browsing through them whilst more prayer and praise was still ongoing. Can Christ really soften hardened hearts?
The sermon started, and it was not bad. It was the preacher’s first time preaching at church. He was not bad, but not great. He was not as engaging as one would have hoped to grip the attention of the audience, to push us all into reflection and repentance. It was probably not good enough to touch their hearts. Can Christ really soften hardened hearts?
As we finished our service in a final song, I noticed as I was singing that the girl had turned around to stare at me. I thought nothing of it.
Fast forward to coffee and cakes after the service.
I was mingling with some of my friends when the young girl came up to me.
“You have a really great voice” she said to me in her thick local accent. I was taken aback by the unexpected encouragement and praise.
“Yeah, you have a really nice voice. You don’t normally notice people singing, but I heard you and turned around. I can’t read you see, so I just watched your mouth moving and tried to sing along.”
“I also have cerebral palsy, and my legs don’t hold up for very long… so I have had to sit down during the singing.”
I had not even began to articulate any of these things that I had wondered, and this friendly young girl Ruthie was already clearing up all the misunderstanding that I had been constructing within my head. Somehow, she has even managed to offer me wonderful encouragement to make me feel good about myself too.
This whole episode made me realise just how often and how easy it is for us to make assumptions based on the way people look or behave. We pull out stereotypes and dump it straight onto them without even trying to know them. We judge people based on what our imaginations tell us, and in doing so exclude them even before we have given them a chance to explain themselves.
I felt sheepish for having done all of that in a Sunday morning church service.
Thankfully, God used Ruthie to point that all out to me.
Christ can really soften hardened hearts.
Hardened hearts such as mine.
I really hope to see Ruthie in church again next week.