“It only takes a little faith, man,” says Mark. “You don’t need much. Just a little.”
There is a feeling you get when you sit in Mark’s back row pew. It’s a special pew.
Mark—which isn’t his real name—leads me through the church aisles, guides me to a pew in the rear of the chapel, and he helps me understand what I’m sitting upon.
“This is where it happened,” he tells me.
“Where what happened?” I ask.
“Where something I done asked for ended up happening.”
He crosses his legs, then places his hands in his lap. Long ago, he used to sit on this pew when he came to church as a little boy.
“I didn’t grow up to be a church guy,” he says. “I mean, I believed in God and everything, but I sure ain’t never seen no real miracles before.”
Until one summer. He was not in a good place at the time.
He snuck into the church on a Thursday, after work. There were no people in the building. The preacher was gone for the day, so was the secretary. In fact, it was a fluke the church was unlocked.
The maintenance man was in the shed, finishing up projects. He hadn’t locked the sanctuary yet.
Mark turned the knob of the doors and let himself into the chapel. The sun was setting. He sat in the back pew.
He did some crying—for his wife. Only one week before, she was diagnosed with a fatal form of breast cancer. He bowed his head and he whispered a few words on her behalf. He was in this pew for fifteen minutes.
“I ain’t got no faith, man, ain’t gonna lie to you, I ain’t even a good guy all the time, you know? I’m human.”
But when Mark went home that day, he saw his wife sitting in the recliner, she was asleep. On her face was a smile.
“I just knew it had worked,” he says.
He squeezed himself into the chair beside her. They sat together like that for hours, and they watched television. Two people; one lazy boy.
“I prayed for you today,” he told her.
“YOU prayed?” she said.
“Sure did. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
A few months later, there were no traces of breast cancer. Not a single granule. Mark couldn’t believe it. Neither could anyone else.
It changed him. He gave up drinking, he quit cigarettes, and he says he started going to church occasionally.
“I still dip some,” he says. “But the Lord and me got us an understanding about that.”
Since that day, he volunteers a lot. Five years ago, there were a few neighborhood boys who were wayward kids.
Mark convinced them to join his after-school basketball team. The team was his brainchild, it wasn’t a formal thing, just a few hours of entertainment to keep local boys out of trouble.
Mark became their friend. After practice, Mark would swing by this church to sit in this pew and bow his head for those young men. Only a few minutes. That was all.
“Man, I figured it was like I found this secret trick, and I’s like, ‘Why use it on just me and my wife when other people could use it too, you know?’”
So he used it on the young men. They played basketball almost every weekday for two years, without fail.
When they graduated high school, Mark and his wife attended their school ceremony and were the only ones in the audience representing the boys.
The boys ended up going to college on scholarships, and this year they are about to graduate.
I ask how this makes Mark feel.
“Proud.” says Mark. “But it wasn’t me, man. It was this pew, I’m telling you. Thing is special.”
So I sit in the pew. I nestle myself in it. The members of my family were back row Baptists who never made eye-contact with other Baptists in the liquor aisle. We were stiff. I’ve sat in my share of pews.
This seat doesn’t feel any different to me.
Still, I bow my head. I don’t have anything particular to ask, but I do know a lot of people who need help.
One friend in particular. She deserves all the magic Heaven can send today.
I say a few things for this friend. It only takes a few minutes.
Mark waits outside, spitting brown juice into an empty Mountain Dew bottle. I see him through the window. He’s sitting on the church steps.
I don’t know why bad things happen. I don’t know why good people get sick, or why some die young. I’m going to level with you, I’m a lot like Mark. Sometimes, I don’t have much faith. In fact, I’m not even sure I have enough to fill a bottle cap.
Mark winks at me and says:
“That’s okay, man, it’s all good. Some famous guy once said it doesn’t take much.”