Sabbath Insomnia

Ann-Marie really wished she hadn't noticed.

Right after Pastor Barry started the morning service on Sunday, he brought up seven kids who'd gone to a retreat at Holiday Mountain, had them each recount some weekend highlight, then asked them to sing a verse of the theme song. Since it's not every day that teenagers sing with such gusto, the moment thrilled the congregation.

After the song, Pastor Barry made a satin-smooth transition to the sacrament of infant baptism, shaping a service of seamless grace. He told the congregation that baptism was the sign and seal of God's covenant promise—that the teenagers' testimonies, just recounted, were their own responses, years later, to the sign and seal they'd received themselves as babies.

The people loved his adept orchestration of the service, its central theme of maturation in the Christian life threading throughout. During baptism he brought the children up to the front to observe the sprinkling, then delivered a fitting children's homily on "the way of Jesus," a phrase he worked later into a wonderful sermon on Psalm 1, "the way of the righteous." But Pastor Barry's artful worship designs came as no surprise to anyone in Grace Church. His sense for unity in worship never left loose ends.

Except this time. Ann-Marie immediately noticed what Pastor Barry had missed. She probably never would have caught the omission had she not been on the worship committee for lo, these many years. She never would have noticed what had been left out. But as she watched the young mother sing a Christian lullaby to her baby after the sacrament, something festered in her. She couldn't get over her irritation that Pastor Barry had simply never gotten around to confession and assurance. He let it go—didn't even bother—and she knew it.

Maybe he simply forgot, she thought. Maybe with all the extra preparation, confession simply slipped through the cracks. But then again, maybe it didn't. Maybe he thought that this week all the hoopla meant there wouldn't be time for something as run-of-the-mill as confession. Maybe he figured no one would notice anyway, creatures of habit that we all are.

What bugged Ann-Marie throughout the sermon was not simply that he had forgotten, but that she knew it. She noticed it, even if no one else seemed to. After the service, coffee in hands, people raved about morning worship. But Ann-Marie withheld praise—his not doing confession and assurance aggravated her like an irritating rash.

Later, when she tried her usual Sunday nap, her husband into his soft afternoon snore beside her, she couldn't keep the questions out of her mind. Why should it nag her the way it did when he could nap so easily? Did she have an overwhelming need to confess sin?

She looked up at the ceiling cracks and tried to uncover something really vile she'd done during the week— something to explain her need to confess. But she could think of nothing particularly memorable—no adultery, no gossiping (she'd said something about Candice at work, but then everyone agreed about the length of that jean skirt). Jealousy maybe? Maybe she wished she were still as young as Candice—that she could still draw stares. Okay, she thought, I was wrong, but one little jealous slip was hardly a blot on the great book of her life. She didn't snort coke or beat her kids or chase the good-looking guy from the soft-water service, for pete's sake. So why should she fret about not doing confession? ("Good-looking," she thought. Maybe I'm repressing lust. Nonsense. He was good-looking, she thought. It was simply an accurate observation.)

"Gord," she said finally, waking him up. "Gord, can I ask you something?"

Her husband rolled over and squinted, flopping both arms up over his head.

"Are you awake?" she said.

"Thanks to you," he sighed, "yes."

"Listen to me. Did you miss anything in this morning's service?"

He put his hands around the spindles of the headboard. "That's a dumb question," he said. "What's on your mind?"

"I mean, did it strike you that the preacher forgot anything this morning?"

"He preached. He read Scripture. He prayed. He baptized a baby. He hauled those kids up there." Gord yawned. "What time is it anyway?"

"But didn't you miss something," Ann-Marie said, "something we do every single week?"

"No doxology? No 'Old Hundredth'?"

She swung her legs out of bed. "It's all because I'm on the worship committee," she said. "It was a lovely service, but I'm irritated—and it's just because I'm on that committee. I wish I knew nothing about worship. It wouldn't matter then."

"He didn't tell any jokes," Gord said, pulling his hands through his eyes.

"That's it, isn't it?" he said. "This morning I don't think I laughed once. That's different."

"There was something wrong," she said.

"His fly was open—"

"Gord!" she said, standing, "I'm serious." She pulled her housecoat over her shoulders.

"I give up, okay?" he said. "I mean, you wake me up from a perfectly good nap and expect me to give you an answer that will appease your guilt or something—"

"Guilt?" she said. "Did I say something about guilt?"

"You're acting as if you're guilty of something."

"Am I?" she said, pulling the sash tight. She started walking out of the room, then turned back quickly. "Gord," she said, "be honest. Do you think I suffer from too much guilt?"

"What on earth do you mean?"

"I mean, do you think I'm—" she didn't quite know how to say it herself. "Do you think I have a complex—a guilt complex?"

He sat up slowly, his face changing to silliness. "Obsessed," he said, "perfectly obsessed."

"Come on," she said. "I'm serious."

"Okay," he said, throwing back the covers. "I've had it. Tell me what I missed, Ann. Go on."

"What do you mean?"

"This all started with something I missed this morning—now what was it? What exactly do I not remember not seeing or hearing?"

She turned back to him and dropped her arms to her sides. "We skipped the confession and assurance. We had all that other stuff and just skipped over it."

"Ooooohhh," he snickered, flexing his eyebrows.

"Don't make fun of me," she said. "It bugs me."

"What bugs you?" he said.

"That I'm bugged!" She raised her hands in the air. "That I noticed and nobody else did. That I must be full of guilt. That I've got some need for confession—oh, I don't know. All I know is we didn't do it."

"It's not that important," he said.

"It is too. It's something we do before we hear the Lord speak to us—through the Scripture and the Word. It is too important, Gord. It's something we should do—together, the whole congregation. We all need to confess and to hear the assurance of pardon."

"My goodness, Ann—everybody I talked to raved—"

"And that's what bothers me." She walked over to the bed and sat at the foot. "Nobody else even noticed. Am I so full of guilt or something, Gord?"

"I give up, " he said. "What do you want me to say? 'Yes, dear, you're up to your gills in guilt. You got more hang-ups than a kindergarten hallway.' Is that it?"

"It's because I know," she said. "It's because I'm on the committee, and I know what's supposed to happen when we worship. Ignorance is bliss, Gord. That's the whole thing, isn't it? If I didn't know, it wouldn't bother me."

"That's the whole thing," he told her.

"Knowing is a curse," she said. "It bugged me through the whole service, you know that? I couldn't get it out of my head."

He flopped back down.

"Everybody else enjoys the service, and because I see that something important has been skipped over, I'm irritated." She stood again, and looked at herself in the mirror, brushing her hair back behind her ears with her fingers. "I wish I was a moron," she said. "Life would be so much easier."

"You mean, like me?" he said.

"I just wish I didn't know anything. Then it wouldn't bug me. Then I could enjoy—"

"Like a head of cabbage?" he said.

"Yes, like a head of cabbage," she told him.

"Me too," he said. "I wish I'd have married a bimbo."

She put her hands up on her hips. "Stop it," she said.

"Really, you ought to work on being an airhead, Ann," he said. "You know, I read in the Sunday paper that stupidity is in right now. That's a fact. It's cool to be a dunce. It's in to be a no-mind—stupid, you know, like Woody on Cheers. Smart is out. Got a mind and today you're a nerd."

"That's awful," she said. "That's disgusting."

"I'm serious," he said. "I read it this morning. It's a fad. Being a bimbo—it's very, very in. It's bliss, I guess—like they say."

She straightened her shoulders, tossed her hair around lightly, and raised her chin. "That's it," she said, "I'm going to call him. I'm going to tell him that he put together a wonderful service but I missed confession and assurance. That's exactly what I'm going to do." She turned away from the mirror and marched toward the door, then looked back at him and smiled. "Bimbo, huh?" she said. "That's what you wanted to marry?"

"A lie," he said. "I always wanted someone full of guilt."

She grabbed both ends of the sash and tightened the knot as she turned on her heel, chin raised.

But once she was gone he wondered how it was that he hadn't noticed it himself. He was paying attention. Confession and assurance—he hadn't even noticed that Barry had missed it. He listened for the sound of the phone. "Be nice," he yelled to Ann-Marie.

Ann-Marie walked back into the room slowly and took off her housecoat. "I'll bring it up at the next meeting," she said, getting back into bed. "It's silly to think I have to tell him right now." She fluffed the pillow. "But you really didn't notice, did you?"

He turned on his side away from her. "I knew there was something all right. I just couldn't put my finger—"

"What's bliss like, Gord?" she said, "really?"

He elbowed her. "So tell me," he said, "what exactly is this sin you have such a fervent need to confess?"

She stuck her fingertips in his ribs. "Wisdom," she said, "but then you wouldn't know the perils of that kind of burden, would you?"

James Calvin Schaap (jschaap@dordt.edu) is a writer and professor of English at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.