Sitting in these seats countless times before was not enough to keep Sarah from scanning the sanctuary. Each beige seat folded up against the backrest when not filled. A myriad of lights hung ready to be used with the flick of a button from the industrial looking ceiling. Memories of the first time she walked through the doors seemed like fiction now. It all seemed so large then, but the crowd of two thousand or so that would join her this morning now felt like a family.
The soft pop of a chair flapping down drew her attention. She was ready to explain that the seat was saved for a friend, but much to her surprise it was Mark that had sat down with a Starbucks cup in his right hand. Whatever caffeine the beverage was providing had clearly not reached his half-asleep eyelids yet.
“What’s this? You have actually made it before church has started! I’m impressed.”
Mark rubbed the inside corner of one eye and mumbled, “Yeah. I’m awesome. Your nagging has helped break a pretty impressive streak though.”
Sarah rolled her eyes, but smiled on the inside. Mark was one of the most stubborn men she had ever met. Getting him to change anything felt like a victory for her. There was no way she would let him know that though.
“I don’t know anyone who would be impressed by that streak.”
Over the past few months friendly mockery had become their customary greeting. They still had about ten minutes or so before the service would begin. Sarah hoped that he might be more talkative in his drowsy state and asked him how his week was.
“Good. How about yours?”
A one-word answer was not exactly what she was hoping for, but neither did it surprise her. Before she had gotten to know him better, Sarah thought that he was just shy. Now she knew better. Mark was highly intelligent and chose his words carefully. He used the time most people spent talking to watch those around him. It gave him an air of mystery that Sarah found equally intriguing and frustrating. She had witnessed brief glimpses of his gentle heart and figured that for him the easiest way to protect it was to not let anyone too close to it.
“Mine was good. My roommate and I went to check out a new restaurant for her birthday and it was really good.”
Mark just nodded.
Movement pulled both their eyes up at the same time. A woman close to their age, with long dark hair, walked down the row of seats in front of them. She was beautiful and Sarah liked the flowered scarf she wore. When she looked back at Mark he was still watching her. Sarah’s watched Mark track her all the way to her seat.
“You’re so shallow.”
His eyes narrowed at the accusation and looked hard at Sarah.
His voice was flat and held none of the joyful mockery that had been in it when he first sat down. Sarah proceeded with caution, but did not back down.
“You ogled that girl! I bet you never once thought about how kind or intelligent she is the whole time you were staring at her.”
Sarah nodded. “Ogled.”
Mark seemed to weigh her with his eyes before responding.
“I did not ogle. I appreciated her beauty. As a single guy, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. How else am I supposed to find a girl?”
Even as Sarah mentally warned herself to be careful, her insecurities pushed the words out of her mouth.
“How about get to know her? See what kind of personality she has. Find out what she is passionate about. Or maybe figure out her name before you memorize her measurements in your head.”
She could feel the emotion rising her voice and wondered if Mark could hear it. She hoped her smile hid how serious the subject felt.
“I would gladly do those things, but living my life with a blindfold on just to accomplish that seems a bit impractical. I am only using the tools God gave me to find a wife.”
A single syllable laugh broke through her smile. She put on her best preacher voice.
“And on the eighth day God created long legs and tiny waists and He saw that they were good!”
Without missing a beat Mark gave an enthusiastic, “Amen!”
He laughed when Sarah rolled her eyes, but grew serious once their eyes met again.
“Do you ever look at a sunset and enjoy its beauty?”
“That’s not the same. I can’t get to know the sunset. We can’t sit down and talk. All I can know about the sunset is what I see.”
Mark’s eyebrows lifted as he tilted his head to one side.
“That’s not true. You can find out what the temperature was, dew point, wind chill, etc…”
Sarah sighed and turned toward the stage. She hated arguing with him. He was a typical guy. He would argue to the death, even if he knew he was wrong, just to try and win.
The silence between them lasted for only a minute before Mark spoke again.
“Do you like chocolate cake?”
Without turning she replied, “I’m not going to argue with you.”
She felt his hand on her knee and turned. That was out of character for him. He respected people’s physical space and expected the same in return. He pulled his hand back and there was a softness in his eyes that had replaced the cold calculation.
“I don’t want to argue either. I want to help you see my point of view. I am not trying to convince you it is right. I only want you to understand what I believe.”
Sarah took a deep breath and nodded.
“Yes. I like chocolate cake.”
“Okay. I feel like you calling me shallow for looking at a beautiful girl is like me calling you shallow for eating chocolate cake. It’s the same as me telling you that you should only be eating foods that are good for you and anything else is wrong.”
One of the pastors appeared on the stage and began to welcome everyone. He would take about ten minutes to go through the announcements. It was a routine they had both heard several times and Sarah was not ready to set their conversation aside just yet. She whispered her response.
“But I am not trying to pick a food to have a lasting relationship with.”
“True. But you do have a lasting relationship with food. You have to eat everyday. Why did God give us taste buds if we are not meant to enjoy food?”
Sarah started to speak, but Mark held up his hand.
“That doesn’t mean that we are supposed to eat foods based on taste alone. But I don’t think ignoring something God created to bring us joy gives Him any more pleasure than us abusing it. It’s like a father giving his child a gift and the child never playing with it because they don’t think it’s educational. That would make him just as sad as the child taking the toy and trying to beat someone over the head with it.
There needs to be balance. One of the purposes of our bodies is to help us enjoy life. I think God, like a good father, smiles when He sees us smiling. He gave us taste buds to help us find foods we enjoy in the same way He gave us eyes to find people we will enjoy. To take away that side of the equation is no more healthy than to let it be the only focus.”
Sarah nodded as she began to understand what he was saying. She still did not quite buy it though.
“So guys are just like shoppers at Costco on Saturday? Just running around sampling everything that looks good. Girls are what… the food? We are just supposed to be as tasty as we can?”
Mark shook his head. “Guys are not the only ones who look at the outward appearance.”
He paused to give her a chance to deny it, but she remained silent.
“But again, balance is what I’m talking about. In the same way that I choose my food based on taste, nutrition, whether it gives me gas…”
Sarah scrunched her face and Mark smiled for a split second. As he continued, Sarah realized that this was the closest he had ever let her to his true feelings. She suddenly felt honored that he trusted her enough to open up.
“I want to find a wife based on several factors and I would be lying if I did not say that my physical attraction to her was not one of them. Is it the most important one? No. But it’s a part of it. I think a lot of unhealthy relationships are due to the fact that people don’t have balance. You date a girl only because she’s hot and that’s not gonna be enough to make it last. There has to be more there. But if you never tell someone you’re with how beautiful they are in your eyes, you also miss out on another way to make them feel loved and appreciated.
Relationships are like food in that way. If we only chose what we ate based on how it tasted, we would most likely become overweight with high cholesterol and a bunch of other health problems. The way food affects our bodies over time is similar to the way relationships affect our hearts. If you are only with someone who is beautiful on the outside, but lacks integrity, your heart will grow unhealthy too.
Taste is part of the equation God gave us to find and enjoy the foods we want to eat. And whether you like it or not, our eyes are one of the ways God gave us to find a spouse. I’m not looking for a chocolate cake. I want a girl with character and kindness, who challenges me and laughs with me, and if I can find it, who is fun to look at. I want someone who is healthy for my heart and my eyes. Like a raspberry. Sweet, but filled with lots of vitamins.”
Everyone around them rose as the music began. Sarah was grateful for it. She did not know what to say after that. Mark joined the crowd and stood and after a few moments Sarah did too. When the music ended they sat down.
As the occasional “amen” rose from the crowd she realized that she was probably missing a good message. But she could not get her mind off their discussion.
Sarah knew she had some things going for her when she looked in the mirror, but she would never be on the cover of a magazine. It was an impossible standard by which to be measured. Long ago she had decided that if the game was unfair then she wouldn’t play. As she replayed Mark’s words in her mind she began to think that maybe the game wasn’t the problem. If each player had their own set of rules then she just needed to find someone who wanted to play the same way she did.
When service concluded they sat in silence as the people around them shuffled toward the exits. It was a comfortable silence that could have lasted far longer, but Mark turned and studied Sarah for a moment before asking, “You wanna go grab some lunch?”
She did not turn to look as she answered, as if shifting her gaze would break the train of thought that had not quite made it all the way to the station yet.
“What are you hungry for?”
Sarah took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She turned and looked at Mark, wondering why she had never noticed the slices of green that ran through his blue-grey eyes. They were beautiful and kind.
“I suddenly have a craving for raspberries.”
Copyright © 2013 Adam Drake