Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Unexpected Christmas Gift

I want to tell a story. A story about myself. A story about how I can misunderstand a very simple situation.

A very wonderful lady in our church died this past week. This lady made a point of saying hello to me every Sunday. I appreciated the recognition and the effort she went to each week to acknowledge my existence. What I misunderstood was her motivation. Let me explain.

Each week, after the service, this lovely lady would seek me out and tell me that I had been sitting in the correct pew. On those rare occasions that I sat in another part of the sanctuary, she would find me and comment that I hadn't been sitting in my regular place.

Now, I understood that she was trying to be sociable and supportive. She had been one of the first to welcome me to the new church when the Rev and I were assigned to this parish. And I had heard many times, that she was one of our supporters within the congregation. What threw me was how she said it.

I misinterpreted her statement that I was sitting in the correct pew. I took it as a statement that she was checking up on me and making sure I was attending the services regularly. When she said, "You were sitting in the right pew this week", what I heard was , "Good boy, you were at church today."

Well, the past few weeks have taught me that I am not as good at reading people as I like to think I am. You see, very few people knew that she was ill. She didn't go into the hospital until the very end. When the doctors finally got a chance to examine her, she was past being able to recover from her illness. But more importantly for my learning at least - they also discovered that she was well into the early stages of dementia.

When I heard this I understood that, for the past few years, what I had taken as admonishment was actually gratitude. She was thanking me for sitting in the same place each week because then she could find me. What so many of us took as mild rigidity was merely her efforts to put some order back into a life that was progressively becoming disordered. She needed me to be in that same pew each week to bring a little piece of stability to her Sunday morning.

I hope that I will be able to learn the lesson that this wonderful woman has offered me. I need to put this on my Christmas list and cherish the gift she has offered me.

I hope that this Christmas season will bring unexpected gifts to you as well. And as always, I pray you will find. . .

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