I remember a decade ago; I had moved and was looking for a new church. I stumbled into a small Baptist congregation to check it out. The church was actually quite small, and elected to arrange their chairs into a large circle. Then they would work around the circle and share ... I don’t know ... their feelings or something. I’m not exactly sure, because I couldn’t hear very well with the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. The second I learnt I was to share my feelings with strangers was the moment my flight and fight response was evoked. My adrenaline was surging and I don’t really remember anything I said ... which might be for the best. At least there was no shrill screams and no one fainted, so whatever I said couldn’t have been too bad. Suspecting that I had passed the worst, I relaxed. My heart returned to its normal speed and my adrenaline vacated my blood stream. I could now hear the pastor again.
And what did I hear? We were now going to hold hands with those beside us in the circle. What? There was a lady on one side of me and a dude on the other side. I don’t hold hands with dudes. Call me juvenile if you wish, but I don’t hold hands with dudes, particularly dudes that are strangers. On top of that, I’m not comfortable holding hands with some lady I don’t know. Yet, when you’re caught in one of these situations, you sometimes have to just ride it out. The lady looked over at me, smiled and quickly grabbed my hand into hers. Ok, that’s one hand. But what to do with this guy? This was a very awkward moment, we both looked straight ahead. He used his peripheral vision and slowly extended his hand with his fingers spread out like an ant’s antennae. I refused to move my arm and opted to pretend nothing was happening. Eventually his pinkie finger touched the side of my hand and we both slowly slid our palms together. I tried not to dry heave. Interestingly enough, the dude’s hand was soaked with sweat. I don’t think he was any happier about this situation than me. I’m thinking my demeanour was a tad intimidating. He was likely single and had hoped to sit next to a pretty girl. That’ll learn him, cuz I’m the farthest thing from a pretty girl you’ll ever find.
Now for you women, when you’re holding everyone’s hands, you all seem pretty relaxed and pleased with it all. And while most of us guys can fake an outward appearance of nonchalance, the truth is that every muscle in our bodies has become ridged. If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in one of these circumstances, do yourself a solid and observe the unnatural way the men hold their arms out from their bodies. It’s quite amusing. And I can guarantee that you will never see these guys make eye contact with one another. Some of them may never speak to one another again.
After we finished a couple of praise songs, which felt like the longest songs in my life, I was expecting that we would now be allowed to release our hands and pretend this traumatizing incident never occurred. Yet, this was not the case. Now we were to pray for one another. We would work around the circle and pray for the person to our left, out loud, one at a time to the congregation. Everyone seemed to know each other, and started praying for their partner by using their names. Having no idea what the ladies name was, I had to whisper into her ear before it was my turn, “what’s your name”. I’m pretty sure I whispered it too loud and that everyone heard me. And in retrospect, I should have just called her, `my sister’ or something. Yet I wasn’t thinking too clearly at this point. My prayer was sufficient and she likewise continued the procession by praying for the next person. A word to churches, try not to make men become a public spectacle on their first visit – this includes those odd churches that have visitors publicly introduce themselves.
The truth of the matter however, is that many men are not comfortable in these touchy feeling situations: Particularly with strangers. I had no relationship with these people, and no comradery, yet I was to act like I was on a date holding their hands and sharing my soul. Needless to say, I never returned to that church. I found one that understood how to make my type feel comfy and welcomed.
Yet, as I alluded to, last week I was sucker punched. As I sat in the service with my family, the pastor announced, “We’re going to do something differently today”. That was a red flag. We were going to break the congregation into groups and share our feelings and problems and pray for one another. Oh no! And you know what, our auditorium only has one door and I was sitting on the farthest side of the church from it. I figured it would look rude to sneak out at that moment, and paused ... a fatal mistake. I looked back to see my friend, who was sitting at the back of the church, but he was gone ... the man is a ninja. I don’t know if he actually managed to sneak out or had simply rolled under the pews and was hiding. Groups quickly started forming and actually blocked my escape route. I sat there helplessly and watched as at least 15 other men managed to escape out the far doors ... leaving me there ... trapped. And not one of those men had the courtesy to pull the fire alarm for me. Golden rule indeed!
Panicked, I pulled the family into a football huddle. They would be my group, my shield. If we kept our heads low and acted as a unit I could still survive this. Ironically enough, I used my group to meet one of the objectives the pastor formed these groups for. And that was to pray. And I prayed hard. Specifically, I prayed I wouldn’t be sucked into a larger group. And I wasn’t. And after church I praised God I wasn’t.
Next week I’m sitting closer to the door.