We had a cowboy at church last Sunday. Four rows up and two rows over from me. Tall and slender, wearing faded blue jeans and a crisp, striped shirt. His mustache resembled the sort that one would grow while stranded on a desert island, and his weathered Stetson sat in the chair next to him.
I’d never seen him before, though that didn’t necessarily mean he was a visitor. Our church is a pretty big one, and our congregation is generally in the hundreds. Good in a way, not so good in others.
The service began with the obligatory hymn and prayer, after which the choir took its place and the minister of music took the microphone.
“I know there are a lot of people here who are struggling financially in these times,” she said. “It’s easy to feel as though God has somehow abandoned you, and it’s hard to reach out to someone for help. So as we sing these next few songs, I’d like to ask that anyone who is being burdened by life take a seat and pray. If you’re around someone who sits, take a moment to place a hand upon them. Pray with them and for them. Let them know they’re not alone.”
A few sat. Many more wanted to, I think, but didn’t. Pride can be a stubborn thing, even in church.
The cowboy, I noticed, sat halfway through the first verse. It was a sudden motion, one not done with much reservation, as if the hidden weight of his life refused to let him stand any longer. He was still for a moment, bent over as if something on the back of the chair in front of him demanded his attention.
Then he buried his face in his hands and wept.
Cowboys didn’t cry. I had known that since childhood. There was a poster thumbtacked to my bedroom wall that had the Cowboy Code on it. Cowboys never cry was number four, right after cowboys always eat their supper.
Yet there he was, using his calloused hands to wipe his fragile tears. His mouth moved slowly, almost imperceptibly, as he uttered his prayer. The concerned hands of his neighbors were gently placed on his back one by one as the choir continued to sing.
As the second verse began, the cowboy did something quite unexpected. He stood. Not slowly as if beaten, but purposefully with intent. He straightened his shirt, wiped his tears one more time, and took a deep breath.
And then he sang.
Not merely with lungs and voice, but with faith and hope. He sang words of God’s love and provision, of His undying devotion and saving grace. It was an act of protest against the decaying affect of his circumstances and the doubt they caused.
He sang. And there was prayer in his melody.
We think of courage as a virtue reserved for only a select few. Soldiers who defend us. Policemen who protect us. Firemen who rescue us. And while their actions are indeed courageous, I’d dare say they are no more so than the courage displayed by a cowboy in a church pew.
Because there are times when the simple act of facing the day takes courage. When trials and disappointments pin us down and dare us to resist and we are faced with this choice: submit or overcome.
What will we do when confronted by loss, whether of dreams or jobs or loved ones? When the winters of our lives blow and howl, will we surrender to its rages or seek shelter in warmth of God?
Will we cover our own wounds and let them fester, or will we let Christ bind them?
Will we sit and mourn, or will we stand and sing?