Ever heard the expression, “life is an open door”? Usually that feels like a pile of crap. Sometimes life feels like a corridor filled with locked doors. Then, by extreme chance, you come across one that is open. You look at that door and think, “My God, this door is so me! Perfect. This is it.” Then you open it, and someone has already set up residence in a space that was supposed to be yours. You look at each other awkwardly, and you almost lose yourself and say, “hey, get the hell out of my space!” but you don’t. Instead, you smile politely and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, please excuse me,” then close the door behind you as unobtrusively as possible. Life feels more like that sometimes, at least it does to me.
Christians make a big deal about prayer, about talking to God, but many of us do not admit how difficult it is, as if divulging the truth would make us less Christian. We won’t admit feeling like waiting on God is just our own voice swimming around in our heads.
God, I really don’t know what I’m going to do…ideas?
Ok…well, you know where I’ll be, holler if you think of anything brilliant…
After a few seconds of perceived non-response, we get discouraged. After a few months or years, we are tempted to just give up, assuming we better figure it out for ourselves.
I feel like I’ve lived my life constantly trying to do what I’m supposed to, trying not to muck it up, and feeling like I’m mucking things up all over the place. I prayed for clarity—a slap-in-the-face kind of response from God. I wanted Him to send me a syllabus for my life so I could start living without accidentally deviating from the plan. But God never gave me a syllabus, and I sort of resented Him for that.
In a sermon one Sunday, I got a smack in the face answer, but it was not what I expected…
My pastor told a story of a man who had been searching for God’s call in his life. He quit his job and on a whim decided to volunteer in India. On his travels, he met Mother Teresa. She had asked him what she could do for him. “Pray for me,” he responded, “Pray that God would give me clarity about my life.”
Mother Teresa said she would not. The man was confused, why would she not pray for him?
She told him clarity was the last thing to which he was holding on—something he did not want to let go of—he needed to let go of his quest for clarity and trust God. Therefore, she would pray that he would trust God.
Understanding struck the foggy recesses of my brain. I realized my quest for clarity was a ridiculous attempt to control something I could not. God does not seem to be in the business of clarity. With clarity, there is certainty; it takes God out of the picture and puts our lives in our incapable hands. Clarity diminishes our capacity for faith. Christians do all sorts of things to compensate for our desire for clarity. We try to un-grey the Bible by making things black and white. We try to determine the course of our lives according to what makes sense to us. Faith is jumping in the seeming absence of a net, trusting God is there.
Later, Mother Teresa confessed clarity was something she never experienced. Amazing. A woman, who lived as she lived and did what she did, navigated through fog just like the rest of us. But there is a pivotal difference between how Mother Teresa navigated and how I chose to navigate. Mother Teresa waited on a God who is Love; who is greater than our uncertainty and our distrust. I said I waited on Mother Teresa’s God, but rarely acted as though I believed He was greater. Mother Teresa jumped into God’s net; I wasted time trying to make my own.
For a long time I thought waiting was a form of inaction, but waiting is one of the hardest, intentional forms of action there is. Eugene Peterson calls discipleship a “long obedience in the same direction,” and that is what waiting is. It is continuing to pursue God, to pursue love, and to plunge into the unknown with a God who knows where you’re going.