I’ve mentioned before that there was a time in my life, several years in fact, when I had walked away from the church. I told myself that it wasn’t the church or God that I was walking away from. It was the people. But since people make up the church, well, that’s a conversation for another time.
After a while, I began toying with the idea of getting back into church. Well, it didn’t take me long to find one that I was comfortable with. In fact, my first Sunday back in the swing of things, I found a place that I felt sure I would be able to call home. At least, for as long as I’m in the New River Valley, anyway.
Part of getting involved with a church is finding a group of people that I could get involved with. That meant I had to sign up for and join a small group Bible study. Over the years, I had come to enjoy these small groups much more than I ever liked attending a Sunday School class before Big Church every week. Small groups meet in people’s homes. They’re warmer, more inviting, cozier.
One fateful Thursday evening, I found myself in one of those warm, inviting, and cozy homes. I had decided to participate in a group that would be reading through the entire Bible in a year. Of course, this was something that I had attempted in the past. For some reason, I had never been able to get much farther than Exodus. Which meant I’d probably read through Genesis a couple dozen times. This time, my hope was that things would be different. By joining up with a group that was doing the same thing, my hope was that they would encourage me to keep up the pace.
The first group meeting consisted of passing along information from the leaders to the group members. I sat quietly, as I usually do in situations involving new people. Suddenly, it hit me. I had to get to the bathroom.
But this was a new place. I had never been there before, much less used the bathroom. And this wasn’t exactly a good time for me to raise my hand and ask for directions to the bathroom. The group leader was talking. She was sure to be sharing some important information about how things would be run in the group over the course of the following months. There was probably something mentioned about not interrupting, but I couldn’t have possibly known that. I was absolutely not paying attention.
Instead, I was focused on keeping myself together. Folks, it wasn’t that I had to do anything as simple as get to the restroom to pee. No, I could hold that for a while if necessary. And it was necessary. The probably at the moment was one of a more intestinal matter. Without trying to sound completely indelicate, I really needed to fart.
By this point in the evening, I was using every ounce of my strength to clench. Here I was in a room full of people I had just met and I was praying for the strength not to break wind, which I knew would alienate them immediately. I was afraid to move, even slightly. My face had to have been turning blood red as I held back a perfectly natural bodily function.
I was in pain. Aside from that, I was torn. Three options lay before me.
One, I could interrupt the leader and ask for the bathroom. In my mind, this was a non-option. I would stand up and say, “I’m sorry, but where’s your bathroom?” The leader, of course, would then politely point the way or explain how to get there. In a two-bedroom duplex, it couldn’t have been far away. But then comes the thought that everyone out in the living room obviously knows what I was doing in there. I shook that idea out of my head.
Two, I could keep trying with all my might to hold the gas in. Again, I was in a great deal of pain. Most people have probably experienced this pain. Gas that gets pent up inside our bodies tends to be painful, especially when it cannot be released. But I wasn’t really thinking about the pain. If I could manage to get past the pain and fight back the urge to let go, things might shift around on the inside. And then my gut would have made a horrendous noise. It would be that loud noise that everyone would hear, and they would know, he’s gotta fart. The quiet laughter would begin. The snickers under people’s breath would grow louder and I would be forced to leave the house, running off into the night. I could play the noise off as a stomach growl, as if I was hungry. But there’s a difference in the noise of hunger and the sound of shifting gas. Anyone in that room with half a brain would know I was lying. “He can’t be hungry,” they would say, “I saw him eat no less than three cookies just minutes ago!”
Three, I could just let it go. As much as I hated the first two options, this third one was even less appealing. I was sitting on a hard folding chair. This meant that, at best, any fart would be a loud fart. But even if I could disguise the noise, what would I be able to do about the smell? Everyone would know the general area from which the odor had come. They would look upon me with disgust. I would be excommunicated from the group. It would be just another church with whom my bridges had been burned.
The pain was growing more intense by the second. And it seemed the information being given to the group members would never end. At that moment, I did the only thing I knew I could safely do. I prayed silently. And when the urge became too great, I dared to risk the release of gas. There was no sound. There was no noticeable odor. I received no looks from the people next to me. No one had noticed. In my mind, I rejoiced. I had just been a part of a spectacular miracle.
The rest of the evening went on without a hitch. I felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The pain was gone. I could move around again without fear of something improper slipping out.
I learned a valuable lesson that night. Never eat or drink anything for two hours before meeting new people. The food may be delicious, but is it really worth the risk?