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Chris Fabry
Married to Andrea since 1982. We have 9 children together and none apart. Our dog's name is Tebow.
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Where We Are Now

After finding and remediating mold twice in our Colorado home, we abandoned ship in October 2008. Because of the high levels of exposure, our entire family was affected. After months of seeing different specialists for all of the problems, we came to Arizona to begin comprehensive treatment to rid our bodies of the toxic buildup. In August 2009 we moved into a larger home, four bedrooms, south of Tucson, north of Mexico. I am doing my daily radio program/ writing from that location. Thanks for praying for us. We really feel it.

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Monday, February 2, 2015
Dear Woman behind me yesterday in church, over my left shoulder, who talked through the first part of the message:

I can’t tell you how much I dislike it when people talk at the movie theater while I’m trying to concentrate on the film. I teach my kids that when things come to a start, no matter where you are, you should stop talking out of respect for others. You close your mouth, put away your devices, and listen.

I consider church an important place to stop talking. Worship is us entering God’s presence and corporately telling the truth about Him and us. We are flawed; He is holy. We are incapable of saving ourselves; He is more than capable to save us. We sing about God’s mercies and grace and love. We listen to God’s Word being taught. But we don’t chit-chat.

You were talking. Right behind me to my left. You were saying something important, I’m sure, to whomever was right next to you. All through the singing. All through the announcements.

Now, it helped that the music was loud yesterday. I couldn’t tell what you were saying, of course, and I tried to sing the words as loudly as I could. Something about His love never failing, I think—I can’t remember now because all I can think about is you talking.

It sounded like this: “Pss pss and then I wanted to . . . pss pss.” And as the music got louder, which it generally does, you amped up the talking. “PSSS PSSSS . . .”

I seriously thought about moving—of getting out of my seat and going somewhere else—but since I had come in late, and since the congregation was pretty much full, I decided to tough it out. Surely, I thought, you will stop talking once the pastor comes to the front.

Now, I mentioned that I came in late. This was because my teenage daughter wanted to drive and I made the decision that I would allow her to do this, and, though I won’t go into all of it, trust me, we would have been on time if I had driven. She’s learning, so cut her some slack. Don’t judge me because I came in late, because there’s a good reason. I can’t stand it when people judge me when they don’t know the whole story.

So the announcements were over and the dramatic beginning of the message played on the screen—a church building with lightning and thundering music. “Things that Scare Me About Church” was the title and this was the final message. The pastor gave a brief introduction about the series and I was distracted because YOU WERE TALKING AGAIN.

What was so important? The Super Bowl, perhaps? Your 401K? An issue at work? The sharks dancing with Katy Perry? I don’t care what it was about, it could WAIT. And if it couldn’t wait, you could have gone out into the lobby or the courtyard or to your car or anywhere but BEHIND ME to my left!

I seriously thought about getting up and leaving as the message began. There was an empty spot on the back row of the upper tier where there was no one seated. I also thought about turning around and giving you the stink eye, but I held back. I gritted my teeth and held back . . . I don’t know why. Just one glare was probably all you needed, but I don’t like to glare in church. I save that for when fewer people can see me. But I was glaring in my heart. At you.

The pastor, trying to speak over your whispering, began to talk about how people outside of church think of people inside. And the overwhelming thought people out there have is that people inside the church are the people who are AGAINST stuff. We’re against abortion and gays. We’re against all kinds of ungodly behavior and if we could just get people to live like WE live, then the country wouldn’t be in such bad shape. And I was thinking, if I could just get you to stop talking I could LISTEN!

Fortunately, you finally stopped talking. For some reason you quieted yourself. And I was able to finally concentrate on what the pastor was talking about. He was saying that we, as followers of Jesus, should be known for our love for each other instead of all the stuff we’re against. That there’s a time to stand for righteousness and confront sin, but that people “out there” ought to be able to see us loving each other and wonder what’s going on. They ought to be asking the question, “What’s going on in that place with those people?” It was a challenging message because it’s a lot easier to be the Pharisee, the one who thinks he’s doing everything right and looks down on the “tax collector.”

I was really enjoying the message, the quiet from you, when, to my surprise, something happened that I didn’t expect. And I don’t think you or anyone else around us understood. Some saliva went down the wrong pipe as I was sitting there and I leaned forward and coughed. I didn’t have the flu, I wasn’t spreading germs, it was just this uncontrollable thing that happened and the more I coughed the redder my face got, probably; I wasn’t looking in a mirror. But I had to cough. It was involuntary. My body just took over, as it were. And then I tried to suppress it.

And you know what happens when you try to suppress it—it gets worse. And I sat there muting my cough and thinking, “If only I had a glass of water. Or a cough drop.” But I didn’t have either. So I sat there, trying to stay in control, but not doing a very good job of it, thinking of how far away from the exit I was and looking at the couple in front of me shifting in their seats like they were trying to listen to the pastor’s next point.

It was then that I felt a tap on my shoulder. My left shoulder. And I turned to see your face and I knew at that moment you were the one who had been talking. You were the one I had been seething about in the recesses of my heart. You were the one who was holding a cough drop out to me, whispering, “Would you like this?”

I smiled and grabbed the cough drop like it was the last life preserver on the Titanic. I opened it discreetly, so it wouldn’t make a lot of noise—you know I hate making noise in church. But the wrapper wasn’t coming off. It was kind of sliding around. I think this cough drop had been in your purse for a few services. Maybe a few churches. Maybe you hesitated to offer it to me because it was so old. I’m glad you didn’t hold back, because when I got the gummy wrapper off and put it in my mouth, I think I heard angels sing. Seriously, the menthol just burst through my nasal passages and I felt like Julie Andrews spinning around on the mountain, singing at the top of my voice.

The cough went away. I settled in as the lozenge dissolved. I was able to relax. I listened to the message. And as I did, I realized you had seen the struggle I was in and responded. You took a risk to reach out to a stranger and help. I, on the other hand, had been angry at you for talking. For whispering. For interrupting my worship experience. And I never asked what you were talking about, who you were talking to—I never considered that perhaps there was something more going on than I perceived. Perhaps there was WORSHIP going on that I didn’t know about. Perhaps I could have prayed for you and your friend beside you.

I thought about that through the message, through communion, through the closing song. And then it was over. And I stood and looked back, and you were hugging your friend. And I think I saw tears in her eyes. I touched your left shoulder and said, “Thank you.” You nodded and smiled at me.

Dear Woman behind me yesterday in church, over my left shoulder, who talked through the first part of the message, who I thought was keeping me from worship: I thank you for showing me more about myself than I was able to perceive on my own.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

i so relate to this. i had a similar experience yesterday in y own church. the problem is almost everywhere i could relocate had someone distracting from 'worship': the loud clapper'; the wiggler; the throat-clearer; the tamborine player...you get the idea. As frustrating as they are, the fact is they are my FAMILY. Not perfect, but mine. Love abounds and covers a multitude of sin.

Anonymous said...

Would you please pull the knife out of my heart? So convicting. Thanks for sharing.

Bill Giovannetti said...

So good. As a pastor, I get frustrated by the talkers, the wigglers, the up-and-out-and-back-inners... all that. What a wonderful reminder that the story is bigger than the one I'm so busy judging. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your honesty. I enjoyed the FLOG. I can identify with both sides. I sit fairly close to the front, hoping to have less distractions and be able to focus, and generally, my parents taught me what you taught your children and practice yourself, if one is to "judge" from the article.

But I have also been caught unawares by a friend in such need that the psss PSSSPPPSSS is actually worshiping in prayer for a pressing need so that as quickly as possible both my friend and I can settle and worship a God who is big enough to understand we are all human and we really do need to be known for our love not our "againsts". An example to be found on both sides of your share as well. Blessings upon you and upon the woman behind you. I'm sure you have heard it said that satan doesn't care if you attend church or even read your Bible - as long as it doesn't change the way you live. I think your cough was a God-send to help you see. And I think the cough drop and dropper were too.

Tina said...

I can relate also because my church is filled with noisey children. Moreover I have super sensitive ears and sensory overload issues. I had an idea where you were going and went along with you. Like the previous comment,I agree,they are still Family.God knows how to teach us patience in the midst of frustration. Looking forward to reading more of your books.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this, Chris! It was a wonderful read and a great reminder to listen (read) all the way to the end :-) ... Thank you for ministering to the heart of the matter!

Suzette said...

Thank you for sharing this, i laughed and smiled as I read this. So often we get upset with someone, they don't even know, then they turn around and surprise us with an act of kindness. This post was real enlightening.