I used to think people standing along the side of a busy road was weird. WHAT are they doing? I would ask myself. I haven’t always lived in a place where public transportation is normal and available. After four years in this county, buses are a regular sight and I no longer think it’s strange when people are standing alongside a road in what looks like an unusual place.
In fact, at least once a week, I’m one of them. I’m just a girl standing next to the road hoping the bus will stop for me. Usually, I’m the only one at my stop, but there are other stops on other routes that attract a lot of riders at the same time.
Even after months of riding the bus once a week or so, I’m still not 100 percent confident. I have a real FOMO (fear of missing out) which also manifests as fear of being abandoned, so even when I am early according to the bus finder app, I still wonder if maybe I missed it. Or if maybe this would be the one day the bus doesn’t come.
So far, the bus has never let me down. It might be late or on time, and I might have to wave my arm to make sure the driver sees me, but I have always met the bus at my stop at the time it was expected.
As comfortable as I am with groups waiting at bus stops, a once-a-year gathering of people along an interstate-like highway still leaves me anxious and a little weirded out.
Every Mother’s Day, people pull their cars onto the side of this busy highway and pull out lawn chairs and blankets and picnic lunches. We have yet to watch from that side of the fence, preferring to set up our viewing party inside the park adjacent to the highway, but it is a spectacle nonetheless.
We are all gathered to watch a truck convoy but that isn’t evident from the road. Sometimes the pre-show is as entertaining as the show itself. Some travelers in cars or vans will honk at the spectators. Others lower their windows, stick their heads out and wave, as if we have assembled simply for them. (Confession: I’m sometimes angry at this because the purpose of our gathering is serious AND fun but it is not a joke. Of course, the average passer-by wouldn’t know this. Still, I’m annoyed.)
I would think it was odd, too. In fact, the first year we lived here, we heard the sirens and truck horns and wondered what was on fire. What tragedy was happening in our neighborhood. It was nothing of the kind. It was hundreds of trucks spending a Sunday afternoon making wishes come true and raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The next year, we watched. And every year since, we’ve made it a priority on Mother’s Day.
If I think too much about it, I’m overwhelmed by the emotion. Inside these hundreds of trucks are families fighting serious illnesses in their kids. And on this one day, we celebrate their journeys by treating them like superstars. Kids wave from the passenger windows of big rigs and fire trucks and even though we aren’t close to the road, we can see their smiles.
This gathering of people on the side of the highway is weird, but it’s important, and I’ll do it again and again.
I feel like life is more a waiting time right now than an accomplishing time. I used to call it “being stuck” and felt it was my job to get unstuck, but I’m tired of making an effort at the wrong things, so I’m trying to let the waiting time be a kind of gift. A chance to pause and evaluate and do the necessary work but to not force myself out of this season.
Waiting sounds so passive, almost lazy, especially when you live in a culture that is all about doing and doing more. I’m anxious even as I write these words. I’m certain our life looks lazy to some but with a limited amount of energy (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual), I’m no longer interested in spending it on the wrong things. And if that means NOT doing for a time, then I’m going to be (mostly) okay with that.
The thing about waiting is that if one person does it, it looks a little nutty, right? If one person set up their lawn chair on the side of a highway, we would think they were not quite right in the head. But when many people do it, the attitude shifts. Instead of Look at that fool, we think I wonder what’s going on.
All the noise of the truck convoy drew one woman from the park to the edge of the fence. “What is this?” she asked. And we told her. Another couple walking through were concerned because cars weren’t letting the ambulances through. “They are part of the convoy,” I said.
To the casual observer, it’s a confusing scene but it’s hard to ignore.
I’ve written a little bit about my struggles with church right now. It’s complicated, that’s all, and there is no easy answer for my questions, but this whole gathering and waiting thing pricks something in my soul.
We gather, yes, on Sundays and sometimes on other days as people professing similar beliefs. We claim to be people all going somewhere but sometimes I wonder if we will miss the bus when it comes.
When I stand at the bus stop, sometimes I bring a book along, if I think I’ll have a long wait. But usually, I tuck it back in my bag because I don’t want to miss the bus’s arrival. I track it on the bus finder app, but even then, it’s rarely accurate. The expected time is usually close but the little bus icon on my screen is never in the right place. I could easily miss the bus while I’m standing at the bus stop.
I think this is true of my church experience. I‘m showing up at the right place but I am not waiting for God to show up. I am distracted. By my kids. By the other people. By my own thoughts. I think I have convinced myself that God is showing up anywhere but here so why on earth am I in this place? I often feel like I’m at a bus stop where the bus hasn’t picked up in ages and even if it did, I have no idea where we’re going or even if I want to go there. (This is a commentary on church at large not a specific experience.)
Going to church because it’s what we do is not enough for me right now. I am on the lookout for the places where God is showing up and I will find them in the gathering and the waiting. I need the church to show up in surprising places, to be weird enough that it gets noticed by people who otherwise wouldn’t pay any attention at all. I need it to be a place where we’re as comfortable with waiting as we are with doing, where we wait together on this shared journey.
I don’t know how to end this post on a high note, which is what I always feel pressured to do, especially when I talk about the church and my complicated relationship with it. I love the people we have known through church and there are many, many situations we have been in where we would not have gotten through without a church family. We have much for which to be grateful.
But I still struggle with belonging, and I always want to blame myself. I know I can be critical. I know I have failed to do my part in the church. I know I’m not an easy person to get to know.
I just don’t understand why I feel so much more a sense of community when I’m not in church.
There. That’s the heart of it. I don’t know what comes next only that I want to be in church less and less and I want to be on the lookout for God more and more. Even if it’s in unusual gatherings and extended times of waiting.