After making the final turn into church, we take our place in The Parking Lot of Shame.
Weird Words and Why They Matter
As is typical for us, my husband and I hop in the
car at 10:56 for a ten-minute drive to an 11:00 a.m. church service. After
making the final turn into church, we take our place in The Parking Lot of
Officially called “Overflow Parking,” The Parking
Lot of Shame is a small side-lot that is home to late-comers like us. I often
feel our arrival should trigger the “wrong answer” sound from Family Feud.
We have no excuse. Like all humans, we’re peccable.
Peccable [pek-uh-buh l] means “liable to sin or error.” Personally, I appreciate any word whose meaning is readily understood if you know a little Spanish. This word comes from the Medieval Latin word peccābilis, and resembles its Spanish cousin pecado, which means “sin.” In my head, I pronounce it as I would in Spanish [pek-ah-ble].
Why It Matters
From a young age, humans learn to hide sin. The
toddler pulls down the Christmas ornaments as soon as Mom turns her back; the
child sneaks into the bathroom with a black sharpie; the teenager pops breath
mints to cover the smell of alcohol. This tendency doesn’t end with adulthood.
Evidence A: Me.
As I wrote before, my husband and I are introverts. We perfected the art of getting in and out of church with no human interaction. In that pursuit, we discovered a route that gives access to The Parking Lot of Shame without driving by the front doors. We sneak around the business behind the church building, pass through an alleyway, park, and enter church through the side door to avoid the greeters. Have I mentioned we’re introverts?
One fateful Sunday, my husband and I discovered
the company behind our church built a fence that cut off our route. Without our
secret back way, we must arrive in full view of the front doors.
Humans like to hide sin. The fence is God’s method for forcing us out of our comfort zones. It seems a silly thing, a couple posts and some wire, but it forced us to reflect on our habits. How often do we put sin in a closet, hiding it until it grows too big to fit?
Being an introvert is not a sin. Going to extreme measures to avoid community is. In part because of that fence, we joined a small group. A baby step, but at least it’s in the right direction.
My tardiness is not due to lack of piety, but pure pusillanimity.
“We are going straight to Hell,” I mutter to my husband as we skulk into church, ten minutes late. Again. Before you develop the same sympathy for us that you have for the harried single mother dragging her four, half-dressed barbarians through the door ahead of us, let me clarify. We have no children. We live ten minutes away. The service starts at 11 a.m. We have no excuses.
Contrary to my dark pronouncement above, however, our
tardiness is not due to lack of piety, but pure pusillanimity.
Weird Words and Why They Matter: Pusillanimity
Pusillanimity means timidity or cowardice. Most often people use the adjective form,
pusillanimous, as in “My pusillanimous wife did not want to steer our kayak into
the waterfall.” (Sorry, Honey, but one of us needs a sense of
self-preservation.) You can hear the cowardice in the word itself. Those
sibilants slinking their way through your teeth to -mous ending, which, if you
add an –e, conjures the image of a mouse cowering before a cat.
This delightful word to describe a not-so-delightful
state of being came to us in the late 14th century from Middle
French pusillanimité and Church Latin pusillanimitaten, both meaning
“faintheartedness.”  A great word, but why, you
ask, would I apply it to showing up on time for church?
The Scariest Part of a Church Service
For those unfamiliar with American Protestant church
services, they typically begin with a song or signal to draw the gutsy punctual
people into the sanctuary. Next come announcements. After the pastor encourages
everyone to volunteer in the nursery and bring something to the potluck next
Saturday, he will speak words that strike fear into the hearts of introverts
“Please stand and greet one another.”
My husband and I dubbed this “The 90 Seconds of
Awkward.” Too short to have a real conversation, but far too long just to shake
hands, this part of the service taught me I can smile and grind my teeth
simultaneously. After saying “good morning,” to the surrounding parishioners, I
have 60 seconds remaining to awkwardly smile at strangers, or worse, people I
met last week whose names I’ve forgotten. Worse still is if one them is a youth
pastor who mistakes me for a teenager and asks how old I am.
45 seconds of awkward
My husband and I have an
arsenal of strategies designed to avoid this 90 seconds. From conveniently
timed bathroom breaks to extended slurps at the drinking fountain, the most
effective by far is showing up late. We are so adept in our pusillanimity that
we time our arrival to coincide with the last 30 seconds of awkward. Everyone
is still standing, so no one notices we’re late, but by the time we find our
seats, greeting time has ended. Hallelujah.
Why I Should Be On Time
In my journey to expand
my vocabulary, I have found many life lessons. While reflecting on
pusillanimity I learned this: church is a hard place to be an introvert. We
attend church to learn about God and to embrace the challenge to live differently
in light of what we’ve learned. For me, that challenge is the simple act of
dragging myself past the army of grinning greeters—why do six different people need to welcome me?—into a room filled with
people I vaguely recognize.
Human beings are not meant to live in isolation, even introverts. Whether or not you believe God created us this way, I could cite dozens of studies on the benefits of relationships to health and longevity. I know this is true. I have felt the impact of deep and lasting friendships in my own life. Friendships are no problem for me. It’s starting them that’s difficult.
In light of this, I have made a goal to overcome my pusillanimity and arrive on time for church. I will grind my teeth, smile, and cling to the hope of a day when 90 seconds isn’t enough time to greet all the people I’ve come to love. I will shake people’s hands, no matter how sticky, knowing someday these 90-second greetings may become 90-minute coffee dates.
Next time one of you extroverts greets someone whose handshake is stiff and whose smile borders on grimace, know that she may not be the callous misanthrope you think she is. She may be a pusillanimous 27-year-old who spent all of her courage just to get herself in that room.