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?”