Some days are confusing. The conundrum seems to come when expectations and reality fail to match up or when a perception of the way things should be moves from actuality to a distant or fading dream. Maybe it comes in the form of a difficult conversation with a friend, an unexpected diagnosis, a natural disaster, or a litany of other issues that leaves one in a place that was never expected without the skills or tools to deal with the problem. We’ve all been there, deep in the black hole of, “Now what?”
I remember the first time I traveled alone. It was a 4,000-mile trip with a layover in an unfamiliar city at an equally unfamiliar airport. I like to have a general familiarity with where I am going, which took this experience completely out of my comfort zone. I find it daunting to navigate through an unknown place, even though it’s to get to a desired destination. I prepared as well as I could, but I was intimidated knowing there would be glitches that could thwart my plans.
Airports are loaded with signs. It’s like every piece of information necessary to get from point A to point B is there. A person just needs to look for information that is relevant to their search. Food court? Restroom? Gate information? Baggage claim? Ground transportation? Just look at the signs and they will guide you. And, if that isn’t enough, there are plenty of people along the way who are willing to hear a question and point in the right direction. Some might even walk with you, turning that “now what” moment into an unexpected pleasure as you chat about life, airports, and silly worries.
The airport example is an overly simplified analogy of difficult life situations, but the point couldn’t be more relevant. We all have experienced that dreaded place where life takes a turn and we are clueless about handling it. Sometimes all we can do is step out, look for signs, ask for help and keep on moving along the path toward that nebulous place we long to be.
I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “God listens.” Awesome! I love the idea that God hears my angsts, pleas, ideas, plans and requests for help. But, if I really think about it, the underlying message is that I need to let God know what’s going on down here on Earth so God can take care of things the way I think or hope they should be taken care of. I guess that also means I need to try to be unbiased, but that’s hard. Individual perspective is full of specific experiences, hopes and dreams making it a myopic view of life and how it can continue to exist without risking the result of walking into “now what”. It then seems that if I need to inform God, God also needs to hear from everyone to get a full picture of what’s happening in creation. So, whom does God really listen to? Me? Someone with greater needs than mine? Someone who is more religious than me? Someone who is more articulate or more giving or more loving? If that’s the case, what happens to my hopes, plans and dreams or my pleas for help if they are different from some else’s, particularly if that someone else is better at attracting God’s attention? Additionally, if God is listening, where is God listening from? Somewhere out there? And why is God listening?
As a child I was often told that even if I thought I got away with something horrible, God would know about it because God is everywhere and sees everything. It was a parenting technique used to keep a child from getting into trouble when adults weren’t present. It also led to the belief that God is everywhere simply to catch us being naughty or nice and keeps score on a divine tally sheet, making God rather like Santa Claus. I spent years fearing that God’s witness of my transgression would affect God’s love for me. I knew God was there and I thought I knew why. Fortunately, I was wrong. God’s presence isn’t to watch, judge and punish. It’s to whisper and guide us toward living as God created us to live – in community with others, looking for the signs that guide us as we walk together chatting about life, airports, and silly worries.
God’s presence in all things means God already knows all that we want or need to say to God, including our need to say it. That’s part one of the conversation. Part two is to listen for the gentle whisper of God within, around and through us. (Kings 19: 11-13) Maybe we need to slow down, silence our pleas, or simply letting go of our plans long enough to know that a loving God is present always and everywhere and through that love, God will help us navigate those places that make us cry out, “Now what?” And, maybe…just maybe…if we are open to listening for the gentle whisper, we will find comfort and hope as God gently guides us. God listens? Of course! Now, let us also listen to God.