What I felt one summer night in 2008 was panic and despair. I’d spent two tumultuous years discovering who I was as a worshiper – who I was as a Christian, I might say. It was at least another two years before I realized that’s what I’d been doing all that time, but a few things were starting to feel stable – truthful – to this quintessentially Reformed young lady awash and alone in the land of ecumenically-minded Lutherans. I think all I mean by that is that there were finally moments of worship now and then when I knew I was both fully engaged and maintaining my own personal integrity.
I had just that week stumbled unexpectant into a mountaintop experience, serving alongside a dozen colleagues at a conference hosting Christian worship leaders of every stripe. The happiest moments of my life have been in Boe Memorial Chapel. Of that I am certain. And of all those moments, perhaps only my own wedding rivaled the joy of that week of behind-the-scenes facilitation of five hundred people who it seemed (God have mercy on us all!) were worshiping five hundred different ways.
There was a boy, and he was on the mountaintop, too. What I realized in the moment before the panic and despair was that if there were five hundred of us worshiping that week, it was actually only happening in 499 different ways. Because for all this boy’s faults, he knew me, and I knew him, and together we knew what we were meaning as we gathered with everyone in that sweltering church twice a day.
Then there was panic and despair, washing over me the instant I realized about the worship. We were not meant to be together, and if you had asked me I could’ve given you ten reasons in a moment. I can’t put words to the loneliness I felt over the next three months as I operated under that assumption. And I can’t put words to just why I never moved past the panic to wish or hope or even just daydream. It didn’t occur to me to do so, and it’s not that it was easy to live in the despair. It was the kind of work that you have to set yourself to every couple minutes around the clock.
But what I kept coming back to, besides the panic and the despair, was this plain fact: “He is the only person in the entire world who understands me as a worshiper and I have no idea how I will go on living without him when our roads diverge.” I even said as much to a few friends now and then. There was no doubt about it: the happiest moments of my life had been in Boe, and with very few exceptions they had been standing side by side with him. How I would go on from that cloistered campus two years hence to worship without him by my side I just couldn’t fathom. But I would. I knew I would. I knew I would muddle through on my own.
Two weeks ago, breakfast ended, I sat at my dining room table leaning on the arm of that same boy. (But he’s no boy anymore.) Across from us were our two tiny children. A candle was lit and we were singing the Te Deum, halfway through our weekly practice of Saturday Morning Prayer, a ritual we began at the new year, hearkening back to Friday Morning Prayer together in Boe.
In an instant I realized three things: that we were worshiping side by side again, that I was the Boe Chapel kind of happy again, and that this was the road stretching decades ahead of us. I’d been wrong, beautifully wrong. I had not been set the task of learning to muddle through without him. But I’d been right, too. The panic and despair were right – the gut instinct that to be a worshiper without him was an absurdity, an impossibility.
It took me four years to realize this probably because life has crowded into the space between us. We’re rarely the laymen anymore these days, we’re the leaders. Consequently, we’re rarely in arm’s reach of each other at a moment of worship. Even when we are in arm’s reach of each other, our arms are full with our children. But it wasn’t this absence of shared worship that inspired our new tradition of morning and evening prayer on Saturdays, because it wasn’t an absence I was even aware of. It was just an ongoing exploration of what it looks like for us and for our children to flourish as worshipers.
And then there we were, engaged in our noblest work side by side again, and there was the happiness just where I should have expected it. In the days since that Saturday moment, as our wedding anniversary has approached, I’ve been thinking about this lovely prospect, and the feeling has been the perfect opposite of that summer agony. Of all the people in the world, we understand each other as worshipers – as Christians – and God has placed us side by side to worship and to lead others to worship. Four years in, I can hardly imagine how happy the next forty will be. Happy anniversary, my love. This marriage we have is literally beyond my wildest dreams.