The man at the end of the pew

She came into church a few minutes late. She felt bad, but she’d been taking care of a friend’s dog and was running behind. She slipped into the service and noticed a few spots empty.

A man sat at the end of the pew so she went to him,  hoping to slip by and take the open seats.

He refused to move.

Embarrassed, she just wanted to find a seat quickly.

She went from behind, helping her daughters scramble over the back of the pew to get into the open seats.

A few moments later, her girl turned to her. She had a runny nose, and there were no tissues to be found. Her daughter went to where the man sat, hoping to squeeze out to get a tissue.

He refused to move.

“He kept giving us dirty looks,” the mom said to me as we walked around the dog park together this morning. “I didn’t mean to be late—it was only a few minutes.”

She shook her head, “We haven’t been back since.”

I was speechless. There was so much I wanted to say, but all that came out was, “I think that moment broke God’s heart.”

I haven’t been able to shake her story since I left the dog park. How many people have been turned away from God’s love by the man at the end of the pew… or others just like him? How many times have I turned people away by being cold and unmoving or judgmental and self-absorbed?

Because Jesus isn’t like that.

Jesus would have smiled broad at her, stood up and ushered her in to the pew. He would have looked at the girls with warm, tender eyes—welcoming them without saying a word. He would have pulled a Kleenex from his breast pocket and handed it to her daughter with a smile and a wink. It’s okay, his look would have said, blow away.

So I’m sorry. I’m sorry to each and every one of you who has ever experienced the man at the end of the pew. Dirty looks. Cruel actions. Judgmental hearts.

For today, on Valentine’s Day, you need to know that Jesus isn’t like that. He gave everything to be welcomed into your heart. He loves you with a vast, unconditional love. He stands at the door, warm smile, tender eyes, rose in hand… “Will you be mine?”

No matter where you’ve been, no matter your story. No matter if you run on time or you’re always late. No matter the pain of your past or the skepticism of the present. His love is unwavering, undying, unchangable. His love letter is crafted in the stars, reflected in the sunset, sculpted in the mountain range. He pours his heart out through a song, a verse, the hug of a friend…

And he says, through every means at his disposal…

“I love you. Today and always. Will you be mine?”

11 Responses

  1. Great story! I needed to hear that!! You are such an inspiration to many people. I love watching you in the DivorceCare videos. You’re so real and raw. I love watching the participants soak up what you say. Thanks for all you do, and you ministry reaches further than you realize!

  2. AMEN! You spoke of our true saviours love! Our Jesus’ love is unconditional, full of Grace, and NOT based on any perfect performance from us or our filthy rags of attempts. Thank you, Jesus. It is a free gift lest any man should boast in his attempts. Happy Valentine’s day, sister!

  3. Elsa! You always inspire me! That is such a beautiful message and it is spot on!! I am SO incredibly grateful that God led me to Woodcrest about 10 yrs ago! And I have been able to reap the benefits of your entire families work through Christ ever since! You are such a beautiful person! I would love to know you more! Maybe when you next visit Woodcrest I’d be able to connect with you a little! I know you have a full and busy life! Hope to see you soon! Much love, Cindi DeLisle

  4. “Lord, help me never act like the man at the end of the pew. But when I do, forgive me and show me that I need someone else’s forgiveness, too.”

      1. Wonderful example of what can and often does happen in a church that has broken people (all of us). It would have been even better if the man had just moved over allowing the mom and her children to slip into the seats without making a scene or making any of them feel uncomfortable. Life happens to all of us – car problems, too many red lights, accidents, bad weather, pets and children who don’t move as quickly (or too quickly) as we would like throwing off our schedules. Apparently this man has only himself to think of and that he did. I pray there was a message, song or prayer that moved him in that service. Or maybe God will just have to work on his heart a while! No one knows what was on his cold heart that day. Until we walk in someone else’s shoes we need to grant him grace as our Father would do.

  5. Yes, Yes, I’ll be yours for ever and ever as long as l breath the air your provide for me to live. l Love you JESUS.

  6. Elsa, Thank you so much for your blog; your articles really make me think about what’s important in life. God bless you!

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