We gather, curling into chairs and each other, a half-moon twice bonded by blood—blood in our veins and scarlet-robed in Christ.
There’s something important about this—the gathering. Living, we circle each other as satellites, moving in and away, making different bright constellations. But in these moments of worship, we are all here, all present, all aware of the blinding Light holding us together.
I sit on the edge of the stars, watching my children in a row on the couch. Zoe’s hair hangs wet around her ears in thick ropes, fuzzing as it dries, light and soft. Adam checks his watch, pressing his hands against his thighs, fingers spread wide. Riley gathers her hair in one hand, settling into the crook of Kevin’s arm.
“Adam, what would you like to sing?” Kevin asks, leaning forward a little to catch our son’s eyes with his own.
“Jesus Loves Me,” Adam says instantly, and our voices blend, and Adam’s tears gather as he sings. Jesus loves me, this. I. know. I watch as Zoe slides her arm around her brother’s shoulders, as she pats his chest with one hand. ”It’s okay, Buddy,” she whispers to him.
We take turns selecting the song. Zoe chooses Joy to the World; me, Be Still and Know; and Opa defers to Zoe, who again asks for a Christmas hymn—Silent Night. The notes change the room into a thin space, human touching holy. The more we sing, the more Adam’s face twists in agony. His tears gather again and again and he swallows them.
My dad chooses his favorite, My God and I, and together our voices carry, weaving love in words and notes. …We walk and talk, as good friends should and do. We clasp our hands, our voices ring with laughter. My God and I walk through… And Adam’s voice breaks, his eyes flooding all over again.
At the end of the song, I turn to my son, watching Zoe rubbing her fingers over his chest, watching him swallow emotion in gulps. ”Adam, why are you sad? Is the singing making you sad?”
At first, I can’t decide if he’s upset about having to sit singing with us, if he’d rather be playing, or if the hymns just cut that deep. For some reason, Adam never wants to hear anyone sing except in worship. If we are riding in the car listening to a CD and we start to hum, or if a song rises from our lips in the middle of ordinary routines, Adam lifts a hand. ”Stop!” He always says, and the best explanation he’s ever given is that we sound funny singing. But in worship, he joins the group, never begrudging us our notes, however off tune. But the emotion is almost always too much for him.
“Adam, what’s wrong?” Zoe asks gently, taking up my interview.
“Ouch,” Adam says slowly. “Hurts. Bleeding…Bandaid.” This I understand instantly. The wound he addresses is entirely spiritual, but the only words he can find apply to physical things. I have explained all this before to blank, uncomprehending faces. Adam struggles to speak, but he understands worship. He feels worship. And his heart remains open in all the places where the rest of us have constructed heavy walls.
Mom chooses If You’re Happy and You Know It, to give Adam a break, and a small smile curves across his lips as we shout Amen, throwing our fists in the air. But his tears return as Kevin chooses, and Riley, until finally our singing is done.
Kevin turns to Riley and asks her for Word, for power that divides soul and spirit, judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). ”What does 1 Thessalonians 5: 16,17 say, Riley?” Into the quiet, my once word-starved daughter recites, her voice clear,
Be joyful always. Pray continually, Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
“Why is this God’s will?” Kevin asks us all. And then, turning to our youngest one, “Zoe, why does God want you to be joyful always? Why not just sometimes? Why pray continually? Why give thanks in all circumstances, not just when things are happy and going well?”
“Well, that’s just what God wants. It’s what He said,” she answers, reaching, not really sure about the why, and with the kingdom faith of a child, not really needing it.
“But why?” Kevin asks again.
“Well…it’s hard to be in a bad mood when you do that,” Zoe says finally.
“It helps us have the right focus,” Kevin agrees, chiseling the point, allowing God to sculpt. “Sometimes we all get distracted from the Truth by our complaints. Do you know who wrote those words?”
And we talk about Paul, about him singing in prison with Silas (Acts 16:25), about him praising God despite persecution, how he who had persecuted others himself then suffered harm to serve Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23-29). We talk of how Paul lived in prison for years, how he still said, “Rejoice in the Lord always…Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4: 4-6).”
“There should be something different about us,” I”m thinking, listening, remembering the story of Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy, the sister who gave thanks for fleas in a concentration camp bed because she believed 1 Thessalonians 5:16,17 was meant to be lived fully, in all circumstances.
“So I just want to ask, ‘What are you thankful for?’”Kevin says, looking around at us. His eyes fall first on our firstborn, who once could not have answered such a question, but for God’s grace. ”Riley, what are you thankful for?”
“I’m thankful for my family,” she says, “that we all get to spend Christmas together.”
“Adam, what are you thankful for?”
“Grandma and Papa’s house,” he says, almost immediately. He searches for words so hard, but still he knows how to give thanks.
“You’re thankful you get to go to Grandma and Papa’s house?” I ask him, clarifying.
“Yea,” he says, a beautiful smile spreading. And as we all share, as joy fills, I watch my son begin a conversation with himself, whispering about his trip, throwing his arms in the air. And elation replaces his tears, until he is giddy and laughing and so excited he can’t quite sit still.
And so it should be.
We come broken, offering ourselves surrendered in worship, weeping over what He’s done. We are emptied, repenting. And He overwhelms our sorrow with grace, and our true thanksgiving overflows, all joy.
There should be something different about us.
We should feel worship. It should break us apart.
We should be thankful always, and our abounding joy should testify to the wealth of His glory and grace, even here, even now. Otherwise, what difference does it all really make?
Recently, I challenged a friend to this resolution, to living Philippians 4, to the resolution of a resurrected life:
“Shall we hold each other accountable to this? To the always rejoicing? To meeting every anxiety with prayer that is lifted with specific thanksgiving? To trusting God to grow the fruit of peace within us beyond all understanding? To thinking on what is true, noble, right, pure, excellent, and praiseworthy?”
And I wonder, would you resolve with us to live different?
Shattered by worship. Giddy with thanks.
In all circumstances.