Like a Comfortable, Old Couch
by Pete Haynes

 

..."Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen."

He spoke the words, but somewhere between mouth and heart they took a wrong turn. Not that Sonny really noticed. He did believe what he said, but it was all so familiar that he didn't give it a second thought.

After worship was over he looked around and recognized an old friend. Sonny hadn't seen her in a long time. Eyes met, ear to ear grins appeared, and a bear hug flowed once they were in arms reach. There was much to catch up on: families, jobs, interests.

Once upon a time, this old friend had taken some powerful steps. Leaving school behind, she spent several years overseas doing volunteer work. This had always impressed Sonny. He told her so. In the course of conversation, she mentioned how nice it was to be back in this church.

"Oh, do you belong to another church?," he asked.

"No," she replied. "I guess I'm kind of like a Quaker. Life gets so busy, so much to do on weekends, you know. When I feel a need, I check out a nearby church and join them for the morning. But that's about it."

This didn't really surprise Sonny. Many of his old friends no longer went to church. They didn't see much need of it. Sonny usually kept his mouth shut at these revelations.

She went on: "Every time I come back to here, though, it feels so nice, sort of like a comfortable, old couch. You know, like the one at Grandma's house, which has that particular smell to it, and you sink down into the cushions, so that it swallows you in its embrace..."

The conversation went on from there, until she had to get going back home. The image stuck with him, though: "a comfortable, old couch." The more he thought about it, the more the phrase seemed a pretty good description. He "sort of" liked it. Maybe he'd use it the next time a friend asked him why he still went to church. "It's like a comfortable, old couch," he'd say. "It fits me. Why give up a good thing?"

* * * * * *

He was ready to use it later that week in a conversation with one of his co-workers, but their discussion took a different turn.

"Do you remember Del Waters?," this fellow asked Sonny.

"Yeah, he works down in shipping?"

"He used to, only they let him go. Said he was missing too many days. Couldn't count on him."

"That's too bad. He had so many health problems, too. I can't believe they'd just let him go."

"The way I heard it, they had no choice. They gave him all they could. His boss hated to do it."

"Man, what's he going to do?"

"Yesterday, I had a doctor's appointment, and had to come in late. You won't believe who I saw sitting on the curb."

"Del?"

"You got it. When the light changed, I was going to pull over and see if he wanted a ride. Before I could do that, a van full of men stopped and picked him up. Do you know that construction company that hires on a day to day basis? No benefits, but, hey, at least it's a job."

"Yeah, I've heard of it."

"That's who I think picked him up. I'm not sure I'd want to work with the guys I saw in that truck, though, if you know what I mean..."

* * * * * *

The conversation really disturbed Sonny, for at one time Del had been his friend. He was a really nice guy, but it seemed like everything was stacked against him. One thing after another. Somehow, he and Del's friendship faded into the background. Why had he allowed that to happen? If any time Del needed a friend, it was now, but so much space and time had gone by. Did he even live in the same place?

"Ouch!," thought Sonny, as a spring of that comfortable, old couch, pierced him in the rear.

* * * * * *

He was watching TV that night, something he did altogether too often, or so his wife told him - often. He had to agree with her, though he'd never do so out loud. He did find it relaxing. So, here he was again, armed with the remote control.

Clicking through the dials he came upon that controversial new program they said was "breaking the barriers of conventional television," sexually explicit, violent. It came with an advisory at the beginning, "for adults only." He turned down the volume so "she" wouldn't hear, and watched it. He wasn't much of a judge of art, but it didn't seem to him that the objectionable scenes were all that "creative." Why were they necessary?

The late news, afterward, was especially full of bad news: homicides, robberies, car jacking, a serial rapist on the loose, things like that. Sonny turned to his wife, who had joined him for the news, and said, "I hate it when they begin with all the ugly stuff. It gets really depressing. Why do they have to sensationalize all this junk? We could use some good news. I'm sure it's around."

Like a volcano ready to explode, his wife replied, "You watched that show didn't you? You're such a hypocrite! You signed that petition to the station asking them not to air it, and then you went right ahead and watched it. I don't believe you sometimes."

"Well, I had to watch it just to see how bad it really was," he said without much conviction.

"Ouch!," thought Sonny, as a spring of that comfortable, old couch, pierced him in the rear.

* * * * * *

It was Thelma from church who called the next night. She asked if he'd read about the small support and prayer group they were starting, and if either he or Carol, or both of them, might be interested in becoming a part of this Bible study.

"To be honest, Thelma," he replied, "the time commitment is the real problem for me. There's just so much going on that I can't commit to meeting every week, especially if it's for a whole year."

"Well, Sonny, others have said the same thing, so we've been tinkering with it to see if there's a way to get folks like you involved. We can be flexible, possibly meeting every other week, and maybe for a shorter period, that is, if you're interested."

"Let me think about it. I'll let you know."

"Sure, but don't wait too long. We want to get going real soon...."

"Ouch!," thought Sonny, as a spring of that comfortable, old couch, pierced him in the rear.

* * * * * *

The next Sunday, as he was sitting in that pew, things didn't seem all that comfortable, and it had nothing to do with the hardness of the bench. Suddenly he realized that he didn't like that image of a comfortable, old couch. "If that's what church is," he thought, "then something is wrong. Somehow, I don't think it's the church."

It was one of those rare moments, unique in Sonny's experience, when he was truly honest with himself. How often had his "yes" to God, really been a "yes?" As they were praying the Lord's prayer, his attention was caught by the last few lines: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen." Into what temptation was he asking not to be led? From what evil was he asking God to deliver him?

Maybe it was the "comfortable, old couch syndrome." Saying "yes" to God, but not really doing God's will. Becoming so comfortable with the familiar, that you forget these pews were meant for "resting," not "sleeping." Sitting, smelling the aroma, filled with all sorts of good memories, but then staying there, because it takes a lot of energy to stand up.

"Dear Lord," he completed the prayer, "thanks for the springs in that couch. Help me to get up, because of them, and put my "yes" to you into action."

When he opened his eyes, he wondered why everyone was staring at him, until he realized that he was the only one standing. His face may have been red as he sat back down, but he knew that such embarrassment wasn't what repentance was all about, as he once had thought. To repent is to turn toward God, to get up off your rear, and get your faith in gear.

* * * * * *

That night he went through his papers and found an old number. He wasn't sure if it was the right one, but he picked up the phone and dialed it anyway.

"Hello, Del? This is Sonny Peterson. Do you remember me?"

1996Peter L. Haynes

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