Connecting the dots
In school, I always liked a challenge. I rolled my eyes when something seemed too easy. Like those connect-the-dots worksheets that were so obvious. Take this one, for example:
In my youthful snobbery, I’d turn up my nose. Roll my eyes. D-uh. It’s a heart. What’s the point? You’re wasting my time, I’d think. It’s no fun when it’s too easy.
Now, I long for those days, for the time when everything seemed so clear. I find myself wondering: What’s grief supposed to look like, and how long is it supposed to last? What do I have to do to look like — no, be — a good mom? A good wife? The pictures are no longer so clear cut.
And, in prayer — how do I know when God answers? How can I be sure the answer I think I hear is from God? Oh, for the days of clear-cut worksheets. For no hesitation, for no doubt.
When I feel my faith wavering, it’s usually because I haven’t heard from God lately. In fact, I probably have; I just didn’t pay attention. Seeing God in the middle of messy or confusing situations requires a willingness to accept that God can say or do or answer any way He wants — and trust that He will.
For years, I’d had a doubt that I had never spoken aloud, a very specific question about a particular aspect of a spiritual gift. I finally prayed about it, asking God to let me understand. One of the great things about my friend Peggy is we can veer from a conversation about the totally superficial to the deeply spiritual without missing a beat. Did you see the shoes that girl has on? Oh, and what does the Bible say about this? So one day at lunch, Peggy and I had a great conversation about shopping at Target and spiritual gifts (easy to confuse the two). I thought that was the end of it.
A week or so earlier a Facebook friend posted a quote from a minister I’d never heard of, and I decided to subscribe to his blog. While I was at lunch with Peggy, his latest podcast was delivered to my inbox, and its title was the question I had just asked her. The podcast was a ten-minute discussion on all the nuances and different aspects of my question, providing clear answers that made sense to me and satisfied my wondering. I sat watching it, tears pouring down my face. God heard me. And He answered me.
So many times, we miss our answers because we aren’t expecting them to come in that particular form. We might expect to find them in the random verse we open our Bible to — and, although sometimes we do, many times we don’t. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we experience that immediate “knowingness,” that certainty reverberating within, that accompanies divine answers. But the answers can come in so many ways and so many forms. The devotional you read this morning. A quote posted by a friend on Facebook. Song lyrics you’ve never noticed before. Seemingly random acts of kindness, seeing an acquaintance in the grocery store who has just the right thing to say, not even knowing you needed to hear it. It could be a rebate check that arrives in the mail the same day an unexpected expense puts your bank account in the negative. Or it might be doors closing, one after another, because this time God’s answer is no (or not yet).
One of my favorite things about serving God is the excitement of anticipating the unexpected. It’s drawing one line segment after another, watching the image slowly take shape and begin to emerge. It’s the understanding that the dots are part of the end result, but unless we travel from point A to B to C to D (or 4 to 5, or sometimes .75 to 4.998), the picture won’t be able to take shape. And it’s the gasp of surprise — and the rush of gratitude — when we see a glimpse of the holy. When God’s purpose or His method or simply His presence is revealed. When He emerges, and we see we were never alone after all. When we see clearly once again.