The grace of empty parking lots

My personality functions really well with a schedule. You can imagine, I'm sure, that getting two adults and four small children ready for and transported to church is no small feat, and being early is a rare thing.

There is a Church of Christ on our route to St. Mary’s, named unassumingly after the road it is built on. Mass at St. Mary’s starts early--8:00 am--so we pass by this small Church of Christ around 7:50 on any given Sunday. And the parking lot is usually empty. In fact, in the weeks since I've noticed this, it is always empty that early on a Sunday.

We wrangle our brood during Mass and breathe sighs of relief as we load back into our minivan. We drive back home around 9:15, and the Church of Christ still stands there,  the number of cars in the parking lot has grown but is still negligible. I close my eyes and breathe in and out.

For some reason, this nearly-empty parking lot brings me peace.

As I've analyzed how I feel about this, I’ve found myself laughing--”It’s counterintuitive,” I hear my reader thinking--”Why would an empty parking lot on a Sunday morning be a means of grace?”

For me, the quiet church with no one there on an early Sunday morning speaks volumes about faithfulness, a lack of striving, and just being. From the street as I pass it daily, back and forth, I get the feeling that church is not a grand production for these God-loving and -fearing people. I get the feeling that just showing up is enough.

They come and read the Word, confess their sins, fellowship with one another, and feast on the Body and Blood. They worship in song with voices only, and I have no doubt that the harmonies found therein once the parking lot is full is both a joyful and beautiful noise.

No early shift for the hospitality committee, no traffic cones, no guitars, and no pretense.

Those things are not bad in themselves (minus the pretense, of course), but sometimes they get in the way. Sometimes we find ourselves valuing the production and quality of a Sunday service rather than the Presence of God and its reality.

I'm one of those people who likes to get places early, to make sure that everything is in its place and that everyone feels welcome. It springs from a genuine desire to welcome others as Christ has welcomed me. But I've noticed that in the hustle and bustle to be at the ready--whether at church or at work or in my writing, I can lose sight of the amazing power of just showing up. Just being myself, wherever I find myself. Whether the parking lot is empty or filled to capacity.

It’s a measure of grace I desperately need, and I hope that you hear that word of grace to you today, too.