Dear girl in the pew in front of me two Sundays ago,
I caught a glimpse of your face looking forlornly at that boy an aisle over. He’s got a mop of brown hair that falls into his face when he bends over to pray, folding in at the waist, into prayer, into comfortable Anglican words. I looked over at him, eyes scrunched shut, the Prayers of the People echoing around the room, and then I looked back at you.
You wore that look of teenage tenderness, the special kind that exists just before the world overwhelms you, before you begin to feel the spider web of relationships as complicated, and people as these miraculous, difficult gifts. You wore that look at him during the prayers of the people.
I caught my breath. That tenderness? Don’t lose it.
I don’t know if he will ever look up at you. I don’t know if he will sit next to you, sweaty-palmed and fidgeting, as you pray in the wide space of these familiar words. I don’t know your story, your name, how you spend your Saturday mornings or your late Thursday nights.
But I caught that glimpse of you two Sundays ago, in that pew ahead of me, your shoulders leaning into the prayer, your face alive with that tenderness. And I saw in you something I want to ask you to protect and cherish in yourself. That tenderness is one of the first things I regretted about my heart when I sat in a pew years ago and looked forlornly at a boy across the aisle. That tenderness will haunt and follow you, a ghost you try to banish, a softness and sweetness that you wish desperately to avoid.
But please keep it. I’d offer you hours at a kitchen table journaling, runs for months in the woods wondering, the occasional shard of glass that hurts as you heal. I’d offer to walk through the story next to you, if you would promise not to condemn that look you give him when he isn’t looking back at you.
I told myself this summer that tenderness was a problem. That caring, having a stake in it, wanting things to work out… that was weakness and worry and it was safer to be controlled, to be calm, to not let it touch me.
But then I saw you, and that tenderness, and how you weren’t bent over in prayer but were looking at that mop of brown hair across the aisle, and I remembered that it isn’t weakness. It’s strength. Don’t lose it in condemnation. Stories begin and end for a million reasons beyond our understanding. Maybe this one will end. Maybe it will begin again. Maybe it will be something in between. But the tenderness isn’t the reason it ends, if it ends. Your care isn’t the problem.
At the moment I saw you, we prayed, “Bless all whose lives are closely linked with ours, and grant that we may serve Christ in them, and love one another as he loves us.”
And I wanted to lean in and whisper – this is the tenderhearted prayer. This is the prayer we pray after that forlorn, caring look.
Instead, I bent my head again to the back of the pew in front of me, felt the cool wood and my own heart beating. And I prayed.