A View from the Back

I’ve always felt like if you are going to do something, you should go all-in. Not only should you commit to the fullest, you should urge others to jump into the pool, too. I never understood people sitting on the sidelines watching others pull the load.

If your kid is playing ball, you should be coaching.

If you believe in the issue, lead the charge.

If you’re a member, actively participate.

Everyone should be all-in. Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Be 100% committed. These have been my mantras and I don’t think they are inherently wrong or bad. What is wrong is the judgment and lack of sympathy for others who aren’t in accord. This epiphany came to me during an innocuous conversation last week.

I was asked to sit on a panel at Emory University to speak to young people who hope to go into medicine. The topic was patient experience – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Having experienced each of those during our cancer treatment, I was able to elucidate all three positions. One of my fellow speakers was a cancer mom I have met digitally, but never in person, although I have interviewed her daughter via FaceTime.

Before the event started, we were in the midst of a good conversation regarding church and faith when she asked where we went to church. A legitimate question… but it has a trick answer. For the first time in our married lives, we don’t have a church home. Right now, church doesn’t feel right. The two congregations that loved us through Kylie’s sickness and death both worship in sanctuaries that contain stages on which she performed numerous times. To sit through a service at either place is to see her singing, acting, and dancing. We tried for a while and never heard a sermon… we just heard her.

We do go to church – sometimes “homechurch”, but frequently a large church where the sermons are deep and thought-provoking. It’s a place where there are plenty of opportunities to serve, but also contains a huge, packed sanctuary where people can sit in the back and get lost in the masses. I explained that we had always been active leaders who taught and served, but right now we need to blend in the back.

“This should be a lesson to us that everyone at church can be at a different place in their life and have different needs,” my new friend wisely said.

I’m a dense sort. I smiled, agreed, and went on until later in the day when I was alone, something started gnawing at me. That epiphany jumped up and bit me.

You see, for all of those years, not only have I been on my church’s front row, I’ve looked down on the people in the back row – the 80% not pulling their weight. Oh, I never confronted anyone, but I certainly considered them inactive leaches while we pious 20% did the heavy lifting. And now, from my new seat, I realize that while I sat in judgment, there are plenty of legitimate life situations that plant people in the back row. I probably looked down on many helpless and hurting people. Rather than condemn them, I should have been more loving and celebrated the fact that they had the strength to make it through the door.

And this doesn’t just pertain to church. Maybe a bunch of those dads who wouldn’t coach soccer with me or build theater sets felt lost, inadequate, or had issues I couldn’t have dreamed of.

 Wow! This self-discovery stuff is great until you discover you are the one with the problem.




A Pharisee, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22: 35-40 (NIV)







16 thoughts on “A View from the Back

  1. what a lovely epiphany, mark. it does apply to all of our human connections in life, i agree. you never know a person’s whole story and why they do or don’t do things. all i’ve come to understand is that most people do the best they can at any given moment.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this .I am a single mom of two young children ,rising them with no support .I was involved in church trying to serve and be a blessing for others .I was giving ,giving ,giving until it was nothing left to give anymore .I ended up empty,drained ,shattered . I did not have guts to remain in this church.I was dreading the judgment ,the stigma of a typical single,needy mother who comes to take, use, and beg . I am also an immigrant and being one in the UK is to be judged harshly too .So I left .Feeling defeated .I look up to you for having the courage and the wisdom to know when to sit in the back row giving your 100% but in a different ,less obvious way .

    1. I’m sorry you had that experience. It took me a long time and change in life to realize it’s okay to sit in the back sometimes. I hope you find a seat for yourself.

    2. I’m so sorry you had that experience Marzena. There definitely is a huge emphasis in UK churches on serving and running ourselves into the ground. It’s not good. We all have seasons of life – I hope you find a place to have your back row time and just be you, and accepted for being you xx

  3. This whole thing. Wow. I am in that place you’ve mentioned as well. I’m at the church I’ve been at since my daughter’s diagnosis, the years of her battle with brain cancer, and her passing. I am having a really hard time being there. I either see her everywhere, or mourn the relationships that once were. (The people who became really close, especially towards the end, and then pretty much went back to life as usual and vanished after her passing. I recognize and am grateful for the time they spent in my life, but I’m recognizing that its really hard now, that they’re not. Sigh. So, I guess I said all that to say thanks for this post. All of it. I identify with more than I wish I did, and I’m sincerely grateful for your heart and voice.

    1. Sorry that has all happened. Mostly I’m sorry for your loss. And I agree, no one can understand and many slowly get involved in their own issues. I get that, but it does feel like abandonment sometimes.

  4. Yup. These things are true for me:
    You can’t be a leader without any followers.
    There are as many ways to lead as there are snowflakes in the northlands.
    Not everyone is tramping down the same path–they may be following (or leading!) someone else!
    And last but not least
    When I focus on my own stuff, I’m often enough of a handful to be my own self-parade.

  5. Yup have been a back row girl for a while now and do not feel bad at all…if people judge you that is their problem and I am sure time will come when I will give back but right now I need to receive and I am sure God understands:-)

  6. I’ve been that person. And then I faced the judgment when a few years ago I went through a tough time and a bunch of us got hurt from some spiritually abusive leadership within a church. After that, I had to take some time away from going into those buildings – I began to really question my faith – was God real, or had I been tricked into some cult when I was a vulnerable deeply hurting teenager in a new city far from home? Being away from people telling me what to believe and how to be religious helped me discover God and reassure me He was indeed everywhere – and loved me whether I went to church or not. It also helped me discover who my true friends were. It’s amazing how many people deleted me off friends lists because I no longer went to church. Now I’m slowly starting to get back involved, but want to be careful not to end up in a religious bubble with only religious friends and becoming that Pharisee like character I was for a while.

    1. It’s so sad to think that people caused that, people who were supposed to be trusted to be leaders and advisors. I’m glad it is being undone in you, even though the process is slow.

      1. Definitely. Just started going to a smaller more local church. And now in a job that I think I’m going to enjoy and allows me to not work on Sundays which helps!

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