By Daniel Schantz
When my wife and I attend church together, we do not have the same experience at all. When we get back home and start comparing notes, I sometimes wonder if we were even in the same building.
She: We arrive at the church 30 minutes early. Any later would be unthinkable to my wife, Sharon, who is magnetically drawn to people and needs time to visit with them. Like a hummingbird foraging flowers, she moves from friend to friend, gathering newsy nectar and sharing the supernatural achievements of her grandchildren. At the same time, she is making her “deliveries”—a chocolate pie recipe for Gena, a must-read article for Joanne, a list of prayer requests for Dawn. By the time church starts, she has already enjoyed her own little convention.
He: A shy male, I try to avoid eye contact with anyone, for it might lead them to ask intimidating questions, such as “How are you?” and “What’s up?”
I am drawn to “things.” I first check the thermostat because “it feels like an igloo in here.”
“What?” my wife counters. “You’re cold? I’m burning up.”
Some things never change.
I drift into the library to check over the new books. Then I pick up a church bulletin, plop down in a chair, and study it with the intensity of a scholar—anything to avoid eye contact.
When at last I am forced to visit with a huddle of males, I try to make provocative statements that will get them to talking, so I don’t have to.
“I heard that the government is going to take over all our farms.”
“They say that taxes will double the price of gasoline by spring.”
“That Cardinal’s game was fixed, if you ask me.”
Midwestern males love conspiracy theories, and soon they are busy with their own speculations, and I find my way to the restroom to inspect the plumbing.
The Song Service
She: Music ministers take great pains to see that every song, Scripture, and prayer is carefully coordinated to the theme. This pleases my wife, who likes things that fit together smoothly.
But she struggles to learn the choruses because the worship team is constantly moving on to new choruses before she has mastered the old ones.
He: I know most of the choruses because I hear them twice a week in our college chapel services. But I am careful not to flaunt this knowledge in Sharon’s presence. So, I sing a few words here and there, careful to leave large blank spaces. I have been married a long time.
Coordinated song services are lost on me. It’s too much of a good thing. “Give me variety or give me the exit,” is my mantra. I often long for the days when a song leader would call for our favorites, and we would sing a kaleidoscope of tunes from one cover of the book to the other. From, “The Fight Is On,” to “America the Beautiful,” and ending with “Away in a Manger.” Something for everyone.
She: My wife believes the Lord’s Supper is the primary event of worship, and she meditates like a widow in mourning.
She is a very godly woman, “blessed” with a super-sensitive conscience that causes her much discomfort. I suspect most of the “sins” she confesses are really just painful feelings, caused by stress or fatigue. Like, “Father, forgive me because this week I have eaten not one but TWO chocolate Blizzards. Oh, and I am very ashamed for raising my voice with that telemarketer, but she was soooooo irritating.”
That kind of thing.
He: I, on the other hand am “blessed” with a poor memory. By the time Sunday arrives I can’t remember what I did on Saturday, let alone last Tuesday, so I have to keep my confessions rather general.
“Lord, whatever I have done wrong this week—and you alone know what that was—I ask your forgiveness. If that temptation comes up again—whatever it might have been—I will try to do better.”
She: My wife expects a sermon to have three points. She is the organized one, and during the exhortation her pencil is alive, scribbling down important points. If the sermon has only two points, or if it has seven points, she will be very frustrated. If the preacher dares to insert a video clip, she starts gnawing on her pencil.
During the message, Sharon’s face is a study in emotions, starting with a wide-eyed eagerness to learn, then the pale face of guilt, followed by the Irish red of disagreement on point three, and finally the clenched jaws of determination to do better in her Christian walk next week.
He: My face is Mount Rushmore. Even when I have deep feelings, they seldom make their way to my face. I am not an auditory learner, and I figure I have heard about 5,000 homilies in my lifetime, and after a while they all sound alike.
To me, the minister’s thoughts are like colored helium balloons, floating out over the congregation. I let most of them float on by, but then I reach up and grab, say, the red one, pull it down, and study it more closely the rest of the hour. That’s how my brain is wired.
I, too, use a pencil during the discourse, but I am not the least interested in outlines. I am usually writing down creative ideas that seem to pop into my head unbidden, like “how I can grow bigger and juicier tomatoes using Epsom salts,” or “why the engine in my Ford Ranger is sputtering, and how I can probably fix it with a piece of baling wire.” I am ashamed to have these thoughts in church, but if I try to eject them, it’s like trying NOT to think of pink elephants—suddenly the auditorium is filled with rosy pachyderms and peanuts.
I’ve read that many great inspirations happened during worship services. A young man decides to go to Africa as a missionary and becomes a Stanley Livingston. Or a young woman gets the inspiration for a new song that becomes a best seller. Harriet Beecher Stowe got her vision of Uncle Tom’s Cabin during a Communion service, and she left the service to go home and write the first chapter. I think she did the right thing, seeing as how she helped bring an end to slavery. But I seem to be stuck with tomatoes.
Ironically, I get some of my most spiritual thoughts when I am hoeing tomatoes in the garden. Sermon outlines pop into my head. Heartfelt prayers rise at the sight of a glorious sunset. A white dove lands on my picket fence, and I feel like I have been visited by the Holy Spirit. Maybe hymn writer Dorothy Gurney was right when she said, “One is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.” It was certainly true for Adam and Eve, when God walked with them in the cool of the evening, in Eden.
Sometimes church is the hardest place of all for me to feel close to God because I am claustrophobic in a crowded pew, scrutinized by a thousand eyes, and blasted by loud music.
Just once I would like to see a church that is like an arboretum, with trees and flowers and chirping birds, instead of like a warehouse filled with amplifiers and drums.
She: When my wife is in church, she notices people. When we get home, she will grill me about them, over lunch.
“Did you see the look Barbara gave her husband during the offering? Jim is so tight with his money.”
“What did you think about that woman who stood up during the sermon and shouted ‘Praise the Lord!’ at the top of her lungs?”
“Did you see what that woman on the worship team was wearing, the blond? I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
“I hope you noticed who was sitting with Bob and is wearing a ring?”
He: I saw none of this, of course. What I did notice is that the chairs were too close together and my knees kept bumping into the large lady in front of me. Oh, and I noticed when the furnace kicked in because the ceiling pipes made a loud “Pop!” and startled me out of my chair.
On one thing my wife and I agree: church can be exhausting, but even here it’s for different reasons. She is tired because she throws herself into everything with abandon, making superhuman efforts to encourage everyone and to praise God with exuberance.
I, on the other hand, am worn out from doing nothing. In church I feel like a racehorse trapped in a broom closet. I need to move, to work, in order to be sane. I’m like Michelangelo, who said, “It is only well with me when my chisel is in hand.” Sitting still for two hours is something my enemies might make me do in a concentration camp, instead of pulling out my fingernails. OK, maybe not quite that bad, but bad enough.
I hope God appreciates the sacrifice I make in putting myself through this, when I could be worshipping him out in my garden, with a lot more joy.
So, as you can see, when my wife and I go to church, we do not have the same experience at all.
But that’s what makes marriage so interesting.
Daniel Schantz is professor emeritus at Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Missouri.