“…and, please help me not say anything weird,” is one of my standard prayers before presenting anything publicly. But, you know, sometimes God works in mysterious ways.
At some point while talking about acceptance, a story came to mind that has been helpful to me. It’s supposed to go like this:
A minister is visiting a group in prison. “It was God’s will for you all to be here tonight,” he says.
“Not me,” says one prisoner. “It is not God’s will that I be here at all. I’m innocent!”
“Well,” says the minister, “Do you believe that God is all-knowing?”
“Do you believe God is all-loving?”
“Do you believe God is all-powerful?”
“Well,” says the minister, “God knows you’re here, he loves you, and if he wanted you out nothing could stop him. So, it looks like it’s God’s will that you’re here tonight.”
It’s a Readers’ Digest preacher story kind of bit. It didn’t work like it did in my head, but, I didn’t quite tell it right, either. I don’t use a lot of stories like that, that aren’t quite my story to tell.
It’s not really supposed to be a statement about predestination or theodicy or the justice system or prison conditions, but that’s why it felt weird. Once I start to tell it, I realize it’s not a simple story. Anyway, how I meant it was as a statement about where God’s will is taking place. There is glaring injustice and tragedy in the world, and something in us says “this is not the way it’s supposed to be.” But there is no time or place other than right now in which God’s will is going to be done. God’s work begins with the places, people, and situations we find ourselves in right now, regardless of whether it oughta be so.
We pray and work towards the Kingdom coming, but in the midst of the meantime, there is no amount of inner anger, fear, despair or resentment that produces God’s work among us. We know what we must do, but all that needs un-doing is up to God.
We saw Beasts of the Southern Wild last night, a film that I’d heard just enough about to know no more than that it would be good. It was. This is, in part, for the way it tells a story I could never get inside otherwise. It’s set in a socially and economically isolated community who have lost whatever they did have, and are devotedly holding together the world they know. It’s about people that appear to have earned their grief, yet can’t find anything not to celebrate. They appear to have nothing to lose, but will defend it with their lives. And our story is told through the eyes of a child in that world. Really, you’ve got to see this kid.
This child as a narrator makes me feel safe, but her world feels brutally unstable to me. However, after being immersed in it, by the time anything familiar to me enters the picture, I no longer see it as her way out. In the midst of devastation, what I might view as “escape” is, to her, defeat. She will be strong, and good, and true to who she is and whose she is. There is never a question of “why?” or whether things are the way they should be. They’re just the way they are, and they are the only time and place where redemption can happen.
Our university community is a place where worlds we’ve never imagined enter our experience – or sometimes we pay them a visit. We often look at higher education as an in-between time, 128 units earned between the home-ties of childhood and the potential they’ve been telling us we’re so full of. Even though this is a critical real-life period for students, it’s often easy to see them in a meantime season, between gigs, a discernment place where we sit around and wonder what God’s will is and where and when it might take place. While we wait.
One of the most clarifying moments in my experience with college ministry was listening to a group of church leaders talk about how to “integrate” students into the life of the church. Unreliable but familiar terms like “student members” and “resident members” were being tossed around, when one of our elders spoke up: “If anybody joins our church and spends nine or more months a year with us for four years, I’d call them a ‘member.'” Why look at our students as if they’re just passing through?
And why look at college this way? Like a pause between tracks when we just talk about the music. There may be an unusual number of hours in the day designated to reflecting on how to think and how to live, but they are only a part of the whole of this phase of life. It is a life with obligations, neighbors, decisions, opportunities to invest in community. It is a phase populated by people made in the image of God for the purpose of sharing life, bringing their gifts to God’s body for the sake of the world. It’s a great place to start doing just that.
It’s not just a place for discerning the will of God for “the rest” of my life. It’s a place to start doing it. It’s not a position to critique the world and figure out the best way around the pitfalls to come; it’s a place to discern God at work and join in. It’s not a well-decorated waiting room for the next real adventure
- it’s sharing a dorm suite with an orphan
- it’s attending a lecture from an abuse survivor
- it’s living 1.6 miles from unemployed immigrants at the Malibu Labor Exchange
- it’s shopping for cereal with residents of the overgrown lot next to Ralph’s
- it’s sitting for coffee next to the loneliest millionaire in Los Angeles.
It’s home – even if it’s home-with-an-expiration-date. It’s a place where we can find our meaning by connecting so we can become who we are by investing in the place we find ourselves. Just like any other time in life, it’s not something we have to get out of in order to get on with living.
What is God’s will for my life? It’s in the doing, right now, and whether we’re in prison, in poverty, or at Pepperdine, it’s right here. When I turn my attention to the fact I’m here and the facts I can reach from where I stand, I can discover and accept the cross God calls me to carry today. I can find the path that leads past an imagined glorious destiny for which I’m qualified (and terribly afraid not to grasp), into the image of Christ who is God’s gift of life.
I might say (or do) a few weird things along the way. That’s okay. It means I got to be with the folks God gave me to love here today. It means he’s working on something, and working on us. It’s God’s will unfolding, and we get to do more than watch.