When I Would Rather Stand. Or Sit.

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One thing I love about my church in Djibouti is that if the pastor tells us to sit but the choir is still singing and people in the congregation feel like standing, they stand. If the pastor says to stand and someone in the congregation feels like sitting, they sit. One person might pray out loud during a time of silence. One might do the march-in-place dance and clap, out of rhythm, to a slow song. One person might remain still and quiet while another weeps and jumps. And the whole time a Malagasy baby gets passed from Congolese arms to French arms to Ugandan, British, Ethiopian, American arms.

I’m not used to that kind of freedom in church. Where I come from, there is something my husband and I call, “The Power of the Hand.” When the music leader lifts his hand high up into the air, palm forward, and lowers it slowly, solemnly, the congregation obediently sits and remains seated. When he energetically sweeps it upward, up we stand.

Sometimes I don’t want to stand. Sometimes I want to sit with my head between my knees, bent low by the weight of the long, weary week. Or I want to kneel and cry and feel my smallness before the holiness of God. Sometimes when other people are sitting and I’m overcome by gratitude, I want to stand and raise my hands and lift my face to the sky (ceiling) in thanks.

I’m sure I could do these things. There are no church guards. There are no laws governing our services. No one will kick me out. But I’m embarrassed. People will look. People will wonder what I’m crying about. People will think it is a little over the top to stand up during communion. Or, God forbid, to prostrate myself on the floor.

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What shames me more than anything when I follow the Power of the Hand without reflection is that I am more aware of what people will think than I am of what God is moving me to do. This strikes me as cowardly, this is fear and peer pressure and self-preservation.

And those things: cowardice, fear, peer pressure, and self-preservation, are the exact same things that keep me from writing what is in my gut, what requires blood and soul on the page. They are the things that keep me from crying in front of other parents while the van drives away with my kids. They keep me from cheering at the top of my lungs in crazy-accented French at school sports day. They keep me from knocking on the new neighbor’s door with a welcome plate of steaming banana bread, or at least they have my knees knocking nervously on the way.

They keep me from living, loving, worshipping the way God designed me to live, love, and worship. But I don’t want to linger any longer here, in the captive hold of the Power of the Hand – that power that says what people think is more pressing than what God wants. I want to move in the freedom of my church in Djibouti. Because sometimes, I think, the bravest thing to do is to stand. And sometimes the bravest thing to do is to sit.

Does the Power of the Hand ever grip you?

How can you find release from that peer pressure to conform?

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Rachel Pieh Jones
Rachel Pieh Jones has written for the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, EthnoTraveler, the Desiring God blog, and Skirt. She lives, writes, and runs in Djibouti with her husband and three children. She blogs at www.djiboutijones.com.
Rachel Pieh Jones
Rachel Pieh Jones

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