Sarah sighed silently to herself as she picked up the hymnal and turned to the final selection. The organ began, the choir stood, and soon the sanctuary filled with the sound of joyful voices.
Sunday morning was always the hardest time of the week for Sarah.
The problem was that Sarah wasn’t happy and she could figure out why. By all expectations, she should be. Her husband had finally found his dream job after too many years of seminary and even more years of waiting. And the dream job had placed them in a church in Sarah’s hometown near her parents, now her children’s grandparents.
But ever since the move, Sarah had struggled against a prevailing sadness, a gloom that refused to lift. For the first several weeks she chalked it up to the stress and pressure of moving and resettling. Perhaps it was simply adjusting to her new role, balancing the expectations of a congregation and her husband’s now unpredictable schedule. Or maybe it was just those ever present hormones.
But even now, months later, the shadows remained. Like the coming of night, the light had slowly faded from her life, and the dusk had crept into full blown darkness. Things she once enjoyed now required too much energy of her already tired body. The ministry that she once loved now seemed burdensome. One way of escape was sleep; but even that was temporary. Morning always came, along with the demands of two young toddlers.
Sarah watched the other women in the church and wondered if they felt the same oppressive weight. Like her, they all had families to care for, church responsibilities, and many also had fulltime jobs. Yet, they all seemed so capable; and none of them appeared to be overwhelmed by sadness. Perhaps they simply hid it better. So Sarah did her best to hide hers too.
But Sunday morning was always the hardest.
The rest of the week it was easy enough to avoid people and their prying questions. When the phone rang, she’d simply use caller ID and let the answering machine pick up. If she saw a parishioner in the grocery store, she’d duck down another aisle. And if worse came to worst, she could always use the children as an excuse.
No, the week was easy. Sunday was the real challenge. Usually, Sarah made it through the morning by simply putting on a smile while she was putting on her dress and makeup. Then, she’d perfectly time her entrance to the church to allow only the most minimal amount of small talk before rushing to her pew as the prelude began.
The trickiest part about Sunday was always the last fifteen minutes after service. If she was lucky, Sarah could spend these moments conversing with the widows about water pills, arthritis treatments, and the week’s obituaries. On an unlucky Sunday, she had to fall back on blatant lies. “Oh, we’re doing really well - so happy to be back home. Thanks for asking.”
This Sunday, as the final hymn closed, Sarah bowed her head and listened to her husband lead the benediction. When it finished with a collective amen, she kept her eyes lowered and began gathering her purse and papers. Only a few more minutes and then I can go home. Maybe I can slip over and ask Mrs. Brown if her vertigo acted up this week.
But before she could move, Sarah saw something out of the corner of her eye that made her stomach flip flop. Olivia Carroll, with her two youngest curly-haired daughters in tow, was making a beeline straight toward her. Oh heavens, please stop to talk to someone else. Lord, I really don’t have the energy or emotion for this right now.
Olivia did not stop to talk to someone else. And as soon as she reached Sarah, Olivia enveloped her in a tremendous hug and held her tight. Caught off guard, Sarah could do nothing but hug her back.
“Sarah, sweetheart, are you okay? I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve seemed a bit down lately. These last few months must have been pretty difficult, with moving and all. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been praying for you.”
Sarah choked back a startled reply. Almost as a reflex, she began, “Oh, you know, I’ve just been tired, and…” But she couldn’t finish. Tears welled up in her eyes and started pouring down her cheeks.
Something had to give.
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