It all started out so well. Creating a decorative box to put valentines in seemed like a worthy endeavor. I still don’t know how I mustered the courage to raise my hand, and the outcome has made me think twice about volunteering for anything else – ever.
It was fourth grade. Mrs. Foley decided it would be fun to appoint a committee to create a container to hold all the valentines we were expected to bring to our fellow classmates. Ah, yes. It was that special time of the year when we had the rare opportunity to let our true feelings be known. And although words of love from the beak of Daffy Duck don’t sound all that romantic to me now, to a ten year old it was awesome.
Finally I could tell him how I felt. His name was Jerry. He had light brown hair and a sprinkling of freckles across his nose. He was funny, yet shy; but the thing that most caught my attention was his eyes – one was brown and the other was green. I had never seen that before, and I’ve never seen it since.
Where was I? Oh, yes. I volunteered for the committee to create a magnificent valentine box to hold all our love notes and well wishes. This was my chance to impress Jerry, not only with a “romantic” card, but with my
“creative” ability. My imagination had already gone skipping merrily off, Walter Mitty style, when I heard my name. “Okay, Janice, Betsy and Paulette will be our decorating committee.” Suddenly, a wave of panic washed over me. “Wait! I can’t do this!”, I thought. But it was too late. Mrs. Foley was not the type to renegotiate, so I held my peace.
We met at Betsy’s house, a block over. We had only two evenings to create something beautiful. We were so sure it would be a snap that we didn’t even bother to get started for the first hour or so. We compared Barbie dolls, tried on clothes, and Paulette and I took turns poking our heads out Betsy’s bedroom door to catch a glimpse of Freddie, her 14 year old brother. There were distractions galore, but eventually it was time to settle down and make some decisions. That’s when the mood changed.
We talked about the size of the box. Should it be a shoe box? No, too small. How about bread box size? Better. Lid? No lid? We decided on a bread box sized box with a lid. Should the lid lift off or just make a slit? Should it be covered with tissue paper or crepe paper? How about the funny paper? Red? White? A combination? How about lacy paper doilies? Our opinions were three worlds apart. Suddenly, we couldn’t agree on anything. Paulette got uncharacteristically vocal and shouted that all my ideas were stupid and that they really didn’t need three people to work on one box anyway. I was stunned and I was ready to go home. Betsy’s face flushed with embarrassment at our “friend’s” outburst and tried to smooth it over, which made Paulette all the more angry. Finally, I had had enough committee work and I walked home with a lump in my throat.
Enter Darlene, my oldest sister. Upon hearing my tale of woe, she set about to help me make my own box – white tissue, red crepe paper, with hearts and cupid cut-outs glued to the top. I proudly carried it to school Valentine’s Day morning.
Mrs. Foley poked at the salt and pepper bun at the back of her head and fingered the chain on her glasses. She was obviously puzzled, but said nothing. She set the two very different boxes on a table in the center of the room. Then began the politicking. Paulette wrote notes and initiated a whisper campaign to convince everyone to put their valentines in her box, not mine. I, on the other hand, sat like a bump on a log, too timid to speak up and angry with myself for being that way. I held my breath as Jerry got up and walked across the floor and I watched in horror as he dropped his valentines in Paulette’s box. I felt the back of my neck growing hot and at that moment I would have been happy had the floor opened up and swallowed me. This is not what I signed on for. I was hurt, Betsy was confused and embarrassed, and Paulette was gloating victoriously.
Dennis, an Alfalfa look-alike with a charming chipped front tooth played the peacemaker by dropping half his cards in my box and half in Paulette and Betsy’s. (Why wasn’t he on the committee?)
By then I’m sure Mrs. Foley knew that she had three little girls who had clearly missed the point of the entire exercise. It was really not about a box for valentines. She could have made one herself. It was about working together to accomplish something. It was about listening to each other and compromise. It was about respect. We had set to work on the notion of love (Valentine’s Day), but failed to see that what transpired between us was anything but love.
Don’t we see the same thing happening in the church? One person thinks the new pews should be padded. Another thinks padded pews are for sleepers. One thinks kids should be swept away to children’s church. Another thinks they should remain in the sanctuary with their parents. Some feel the pastor needs a raise, while others want to pay him the same sorry wage he’s been paid for fifteen years. Should we build a new church? No, too expensive. This isn’t how grandpa did it. Grey carpet or green? Pass the plate or offering march? Should choir practice be on Wednesday night after service or on Saturday morning? Hymn books or praise and worship choruses on the wall? Contemporary or traditional? It goes on and on. Sometimes the decision making process becomes so contentious that churches ultimately split. I’m sure that’s not what God had in mind.
It’s easy to walk in love at the potluck, but the business meeting is where the mettle of many Christians is tested.
The Lord has asked us to work together in unity to build something for Him – his church. We come from different backgrounds and our opinions and talents are varied. We all have something to contribute, and in the end God’s opinion is all that matters anyway. I think it’s time we grew up. At least that’s the way I see it.
Happy Valentine’s Day!