I have a love/hate relationship with the Sunday of my vacation. I hate it because it is the last day of rest before going back to work. I also hate it for the guilt I suffer through on that morning for not going to church. I rationalize my decision with the old argument that you don’t go to work on your vacation, but I so rarely get a chance to worship as a congregant that I feel like I’m cheating myself by skipping church. The night before, I always have good intentions, but Sunday morning I always find some excellent reasons to not go, which are probably some of the same excellent reasons my congregation members use when they don’t come.
Despite all this, I also love that rare Sunday morning off, because it holds for me a rhythm that is completely different than every other Sunday. My usual routines are not needed, so rather than steer into the well-worn grooves of “getting ready for church,” I’m free to explore other ways of being on the morning of the Lord’s Day (actually, that’s every morning, isn’t it?).
Last Sunday morning, I decided to make the most of my day off by going for a run. I was tired from a week of resting (!) so I didn’t try to set any personal records. Instead, I enjoyed a nice, leisurely jog around our neighborhood while listening to a guilt-alleviating Andy Stanley sermon. The sermon itself wasn’t about guilt, but the fact that I was listening to a sermon helped alleviate the guilt I felt for not going to church.
I’d classify the neighborhood around our house as “blue-collar.” We live in the newer section, but I frequently run through the older section, which has smaller houses and more signs of “blue-collar-ness.” I usually daydream as I run past each house, wondering about the occupants inside (in a wistful way, not in a “there’s-a-stalker-staring-in-our-windows” way). Each home holds potential for incredible joy and heart-breaking despair. That house has balloons on the mailbox; did someone just have a birthday party? Was a new baby born? That other house has its shutters drawn. Are they dealing with some bad news? Living with an illness?
I can’t help but draw conclusions about the houses as I run by. Some are not very well kept, with unruly lawns and rusted patio furniture. Others have junky cars sitting out front or have yards littered with broken toys. As much as I resist, I find myself passing judgment on the residents of those houses (a bit ironic as I plod by like a perpetually falling-forward zombie). I wonder to myself, in my best Darrin McGavin voice from “A Christmas Story,” “What has brought you to this lowly state?” My guess is these people are dealing with something more serious than soap poisoning.
Last Sunday, as I was making my way through the neighborhood thinking these very thoughts, I saw something that just about knocked me on my keister (which, at this point in the run, wouldn’t have been hard to do). Out in front of one of these houses was a sign that said, “Help us adopt. Yard sale.” Bam! I’m running by here like some pietistic voyeur, wondering what challenges in life have brought people to their less-than-glamorous settings, and I get smacked in the face by hope. Does it get any more Christ-like than a yard sale to help fund an adoption?
I know from friends who’ve gone through this process that it can be very expensive and time-consuming. And by expensive, I mean more-than-a-couple-yard-sales expensive. In fact, if I were relying on yard sales to fund my hope for adoption, I’d probably give up. Thank God for some child out there that this family has more faith than me. I know absolutely nothing about them, but I love them. They are willing to put in the work and get rid of their things in order to fund their dream of giving a child a home.
Damn my judgmentalism, and thank God for giving me a sign (literally!) that I don’t know as much as I think I do. People are so much more than their yards or cars or homes, even when we try to let those possessions represent who we wish we were. Everyone has a narrative full of tragedy and triumph, because God created us with the amazing potential to live through both. We can find grace in the most unlikely places, like a jail cell or a courtroom. We can find hope in the most desperate places, like a hospital room or a banker’s office. And we can find faith in the most unexpected places, like a cardboard sign along a neighborhood street.
I thought I was skipping church that morning, but as it turns out, I saw a sermon after all.