Friday, March 28, 2008

The Good Shepherd

I have a confession to make: last Saturday night I made a conscious decision to stay home and not go to church on Easter Sunday. At the time on Easter Sunday of all days I shouldn't be going to church purely out of a sense of obligation and knowing that I was going to begrudge the time I spent there.

In the past few weeks I've been increasingly dissatisfied with church life here. The pastor and his wife and the couple of people who attend off and on are nice enough people but they're much older than me (like in their 60s and 70s)--the one lady who is closer to my age (but still in her thirties) often can't come because of her work schedule--so we really don't have much to talk about. As a result, the lunches after the service have been becoming more and more tiresome. I've actually left right after the service a couple of times, but each time they (the pastor and his wife) really put pressure on me to stay and made me feel really guilty about skipping out.

Then too a couple of weeks ago the pastor informed me that he had told another pastor that I would be going with them to visit them in Misawa in the afternoon at like 4pm--without asking me beforehand! I was really super pissed that he would presume to accept an invitation for me and then put a guilt trip on me when I declined to attend because I had been out late the night before (at our monthly gathering at Sakagami's drinking house) and was really tired. He actually said something along the lines of: "I hope in the future you will get rest so you will not be too tired to join us on Sundays." I have to admit I was pretty snarky and replied: "I hope next time you will ask me ahead of time if you want me to join your plans for the afternoon because I may be busy or already have plans of my own."

So after that I told the pastor (without any guilt) that I would be attending the church in Misawa(Greater Love) the following week. (I had already been planning to go back because I hadn't seen Weldon and Crystal in a while and I really needed to hear a message in English, so that incident just confirmed my decision to go to Misawa the next week.)

At Greater Love the next week I was glad to see Crystal and Weldon again but the downsides to the church really seemed clear to me: the message and focus was all very American-base-centric (fair enough since that's the bulk of the congregation); and although everyone was very warm and welcoming, it was in a rather impersonal and shallow way. I mean, I suddenly stopped coming after attending regularly for about 2 months and when I returned over a month later it was as if I was a newcomer all over again. Honestly I think people didn't even realize that I had been there before--and it's not so large of a church that a lone Asian person in the crowd should reasonably go unnoticed.

So yeah, I didn't really want to go to Greater Love for Easter Sunday either, especially since they were having a big lunch after the service; I knew Weldon and Crystal would probably go and I would feel bad if I skipped out without anything pressing waiting for me at home, but I would also feel awkward if I stayed.

And that's how I came to the decision to stay home on Easter Sunday.

To make matters worse, I also intentionally stayed up late (until about 2am) so that I could honestly answer that I was tired and slept in if asked why I didn't go to church.

But as set as I thought I was on not going, I guess I still had some doubts about my decision since I did set my alarms so that I would wake up in time for church. (I figured I would do my usual weekend thing and hit the snooze button or turn them off and end up waking up at 12pm.)

Apparently God had other plans, though, because I actually woke up when the first alarm went off and I was awake enough that I had to make a conscious decision to stick to the plan (of not going to church) and to go back to sleep.

The same thing happened when the second alarm went off; I could easily have gotten up and gotten ready for church but I decided to stick to the plan and made myself go back to sleep.

Then the phone rang at the time service was supposed to start. Again, I could've answered it, but I knew it was probably the pastor's wife calling so I decided to let it go to the answering machine. But I could hear the message she was leaving, and in it she mentioned that there was a "young Japanese lady who was interested in learning English."

When I heard that I felt for the first time that I had made the wrong decision in choosing to stay home that week. I mean, the whole reason I was so disappointed in both of the churches was because neither of them gave me the opportunity to talk with Japanese people my age who were interested in communicating with a native English speaker and the one week I decided to stay home just had to be the week when such a person appeared!

But I realized that I had two choices: I could compound my error (of deciding not to go to church) by stubbornly sticking to my plan because it would be embarrassing to go to church so late, or I could take the chance God was giving me to correct my error and get up and go to church, even if I was going to be half an hour late.

So I chose the latter and it was definitely the right choice. On my way to church I was kind of worried that the pastor's wife's definition of "young lady" might be different from mine--like someone in their late 30's--but it turned out that she, Mayumi, was about the same age as me and a fun person to talk with.

We both stayed for the lunch and for once I wasn't just watching the clock and waiting for enough time to pass that I could excuse myself without being rude. Since Mayumi needed to go to Tsutaya but couldn't drive/didn't have a car, I offered to drive her there. (She had come by bike so first we had to stuff her bike in the back of my car and drop it off at her house. It didn't actually fit--the trunk couldn't close--but I drove slowly and she only lived about 5min away from the church so it worked out.) After that I hung out at her house for a couple of hours.

Even though she won't be able to come to church because of her work schedule (she's a hair stylist so her off day is Monday), we exchanged contact info so we can hang out again sometime. I wish I could've made plans to meet up this week but with all the parties for co-workers who have been transferred to other schools/departments, I just don't have the time. (Plus I'm sick and don't want to spread my germs around if I can avoid it.)

So yeah, the whole incident made me realize again what it means when we say that Jesus is the good shepherd. Usually we only think of the lost sheep metaphor as applying to non-believers, but there are many times when believers also stray from the flock and need rescuing.

And I think it's really amazing that God made such a great effort and gave me so many chances to come back to him on Easter Sunday even though I had made a conscious decision and effort to run away from him.