This week I read a short piece by Henri Nouwen, about how he would seek God in silence and fervently ask God to express his love and pleasure toward him. It struck me how vulnerable Henri was to write such a thing, not asking God to give him direction, but rather to give him affirmation. Let’s face it: it takes real courage to ask God to tell me he loves me and hope I hear something back! Everyone wants this kind of word from God of course, but very few would admit that publicly. It was Nouwen at his vulnerable best.
Then today I read about Mother Teresa’s regular discipline of spending time in silence with God, and her private agony at not hearing from God about his favor, despite her incredibly God-pleasing work. I took a short time of silence this morning after that reading, and I have to admit, I didn’t hear from God either.
But as I did, it struck me that perhaps I was looking in the wrong place, because I have had very many times of feeling God’s favor toward me in my life and my work, and even his superintending of my actions. The most recent was only last week when I wanted deeply to surprise and bless Janet to celebrate our 500th month anniversary since we first began dating, way back during high school in November, 1971.
As we sat on a blanket at the beach at sunset, all of the surprises having now been revealed and Janet superbly stunned, I marveled at how God had placed extra treats directly in my path to accentuate the experience, like the dozen red carnations I walked right past and bought at the last minute. I didn’t even have a clear plan how I’d use or present them, but then I thought to stand each one up in the sand circling around our blanket, like some miniature picket fence of love encircling Janet. I’m not that creative!
I felt that God knew my desire was to bless Janet, and he shined his favor on that desire to help make it happen beyond what I could have planned. Some angel must have given us perfect sunny weather, unusually majestic waves, a warm ocean, the carnations, and music I played Janet as she opened the card, which I’d not heard in years until only the day before, when it had moved me to tears. I somehow found the absolutely perfect card. And Janet, knowing only that I was making some sort of surprise plan for the evening for reasons she didn’t know, wore the same perfume she wore in high school. And some guy ten yards away took photos of us on the beach, then voluntarily built a fire for us and left it for us to enjoy.
I was well-prepared, certainly, but beyond all that I could do or even dream, I felt God was showing us his favor and love by showering special blessings on us.
Then, reminiscing on the beach about our relationship over these 41+ years since we began dating as pimpled high-schoolers, through a ‘crisis’ pregnancy and the ups and downs (very few downs, really) of life to the crescendo of that evening… We know we are not that good, we were unqualified and unaware and have in no way ‘deserved’ the marriage with which we’ve been blessed, the life we’ve had together.
Janet said, “If I die tonight, it’s OK.” She called it her best date she’s ever had (which maybe doesn’t say much for my performance the prior 41 years!). We felt like two kids again, staring back at a minefield we’d just somehow safely crossed, knowing without a doubt we couldn’t have done it alone.
I’m not single, as Nouwen and Mother Teresa were. I don’t need the level of intimacy with God that they perhaps felt. They each walked a lonely journey in rarefied air, feeling tremendous expectations from the outside world, as special representatives of the God to whom they clung fiercely despite it all. I’ve had over 40 years with a true life partner, for which I’m inexpressibly grateful. So I don’t pretend to know or see God in the places where Henri and Teresa could not. I’m not sure I have as much courage to ask as they did to hear God’s voice, fearful I’d be setting myself up for deep disappointment.
But I’m grateful for the many times and ways I have in fact seen God’s fingerprints, walked in footprints he’d already set down, his hand preparing the good works God intended for me to walk in. (Eph 2:10)
I think I can relate my own experience most to the story where Moses asks of God, “Now show me your glory.” (Ex 33:18) God answers that he’ll pass by, but tells Moses he’ll only be able to see God’s back.
For a cyclist or a swimmer, it’s known as “drafting”–when the resistance of the water or air is reduced because there is another rider or swimmer traveling slightly ahead of you, “running interference for you” as it were. Last week I was reminded once again how much pleasure I have felt from God, in my life and in my work, when I discover I’m drafting behind him.