By the time I was 21, my home business was making me enough profit that I began flying from NY to NC to visit my dear friend, Sarah, each spring for her annual Drama and Dance production. I would arrive mid-week, just in time to jump into all the final preparations. I loved the excitement of helping with last minute costume revisions, hair do’s and set details, and watching the theater fill with enthusiastic family and friends for what was always a quality show.
But most of all I loved a chance to be with Sarah again, even though our moments together were short and stressed due to performance week. Through all the chaos and drama of organizing dozens of students, parent volunteers, and last minute details, she always radiated Christ. I ran just to keep up, my eyes wide at a life lived so full and full of joy.
Although we both professed to love and live for the same God, my faith didn’t look like Sarah’s even on the sunniest days.
A Pretty Little Pharisee
For 12 years now I’d been submerged in one of the most conservative sub-sets of Christianity that I’m aware of in America. Principles and values, all toted as scriptural, were fed me with the promise that my full commitment to them would guarantee the blessing and favor of God. As a natural people-pleaser and rule-follower, I had embraced every jot and tittle of the “rule book” of good, Christian girls, ever so grateful (and proud!) to have found the straightest and narrowest path to God. I wore my skirts long, my hair up, my necklines high. I read my Bible, filled my prayer journal, and tithed from my business beyond 10%. I respected my parents, was a good example to my peers, and planned on marrying a man who met (if not exceeded!) the standards of said “rule book”.
Yet my faith did not inspire the joy that seemed to carry Sarah through her days. I had yet to experience anything remotely resembling an easy yoke or a light burden in coming to Jesus. I was, in all honesty, a very religious, very intentional Pharisee.
My self-fortified religion left me tortured by questions, wondering if there couldn’t be something more. When I was around Sarah, I was sure of it.
And so it was that my annual visits to Sarah were more than just a social event or vacation, they were quests, to find–or be found by–whatever gave her such joy.
I followed Sarah around like a puppy that whole week, trying to see what made the difference. That was how I ended up joining her one morning for her personal devotional time before another hectic day of errands and play prep…
Invitation to Worship
We entered the old theatre with early-morning sun showcasing the dust we still had to sweep from the corners before performance night. Ignoring her pressing to-do list for a higher priority, Sarah climbed up on the stage and pulled her CD player out of the wings. We sat in a puddle of light on the slightly slanted, smooth-worn hardwood of Stage Right with our Bibles and journals. Sarah turned on a Michael W. Smith worship collection and then and there, she began to worship.
I had never seen someone worship without an audience. I mean, I was there, but I hardly counted—first, because I knew Sarah well enough to know she wouldn’t try to impress me, and second, because she seemed to have forgotten I was there. It was just her and her Lord, in the empty theater which had become a sanctuary.
For the length of the CD, we sang, read our Bibles, journaled and prayed silently. For me it felt forced and fake, yet I was determined to make an effort to get in step with whatever Sarah was doing, for I sensed that this time alone with her Savior was the center of her Christian walk, and perhaps The Secret to her joy.
When we were finished, I felt both exhilarated and exhausted. The spontaneity and freedom of that hour was a strenuous exercise for one who was used to performance and ritual in worship, to one who normally spent devotional time checking of a list of action points. It had felt awkward to just jump into the presence of God without tidying up and fortifying myself with standards met and appearances in place. It felt like we’d simply been casually visiting a friend—One whom Sarah knew much better than I did.
I decided even if I continued to feel like an awkward teenager who wore the wrong thing to the party, I would visit this Friend again.
Continued in “A Fair and Glorious Morning“