The summer before I left for college I read the story of Gideon (Judges 6-8). It's one of those rough, battle-filled stories from the Old Testament . . . the kind that tend to make me uncomfortable. And I'm no theologian. But let me give you short version as I see it - Israel had been through a rough time. As a people, they had made some rough choices (it's probably more complicated than that). God allowed them to live with their consequences. Natural consequence is a part of our human life. That's the backdrop behind our first meeting of Gideon.
God meets with Gideon under a tree (don't you wish God would do that with you???) and speaks to him. God asks Gideon to lead his people in rising up against the Midianites. Gideon is not having any of it. Gideon is much more polite to God than I am when under stress. He very politely questions God - Is God really with us? . . . Are you sure you want me? . . . . Did you know I'm the weakest child of the weakest family? . . . and finally - still not trusting - Let's do an experiment, God. If you really want me to do this, show me a very specific sign. He puts a fleece out one night and asks God to cause the fleece to be covered in dew, but the ground to be dry the next morning. It happens. That's not enough, though. Please don't be mad at me, God. Can you reverse that tomorrow? Make the ground wet and the blanket dry? The words of somebody who is scared and has no space for trust in the situation at hand. And then? It happens.
Um. Ok? Gideon and butterflies?
Right. I was in Kentucky at a missions organization called Edge Outreach. It's run by this nifty guy named Mark Hogg. When I was 15 - the year I accepted that God was calling me to serve - I went to Costa Rica with Edge and my life was permanently altered. While my team was working in Kentucky I talked with Mark about this sense of calling. I explained that I was going to go to college as an English major so that I could learn how to write well, and that I'd go to seminary after that. Mark said, "No. That's going to be too hands off for you. I don't know that you'll be doing that, Sarah. I think you might be doing something else."
Those words stuck with me for a couple of days. They unsettled me.
The third day of our trip I woke up and read from "The Upper Room" devotional. I read the story of Gideon. I read about trust.
I was low on trust.
All day as we worked, I thought about Gideon. Does God still talk to people like that?
At the end of the day we sat down in a circle to pray. It was a beautiful day. There was no roof on the building. Bugs came and went as they pleased. And I saw it - a butterfly.
Everybody else had their eyes closed, but mine were wide open. Somebody was praying out loud. While they did that, I kept my own inner dialogue going - God, I don't know how to do this. I don't even know what I'm asking for. I think I'm asking you if I'm supposed to serve outside the church? I think I'm asking you if I'm supposed to do something for your people? Some kind of service with my life? I don't know. I guess that's the point, God. I don't know. If you will just show me that you are calling me to serve you outside the pulpit, I will follow you anywhere. Make that butterfly land on me right now. Talk to me. I will follow you anywhere.
And it did.
It floated right over to me and landed on my foot. I shook my foot to see if it would leave. It stayed. I tapped my toe on the concrete floor. It stayed put. Somebody said, "Amen." I just sat there staring at this butterfly on my shoe like a crazy person. Ok, God. I guess I'm waiting for your instructions now. And that's ok. I can wait as long as I know you're with me.
I didn't realize it at the time . . . but life is endless waiting if it's perfectly specific instructions we're asking for. The truth is - we are going to end up all sorts of places, some of them seeming to fit perfectly and others not, and God will be present in all of them.
I was so excited about the butterfly experience that I blurted it out to anybody who would listen when I came home. The response I received was often less than affirming. I don't come from a denomination or a community that embraces the idea of the Holy Spirit or being communicated with in a direct way . . . but I have learned a few things between ages 17 and 26.
1.) God talks to normal people in normal ways. God is God. God can talk however God wants. And I do believe that God wants to talk to everybody. The more I look for it, the more I see it. God can talk to me over a sink full of dirty dish water. God has been known to talk to me in the middle of a traffic jam . . . and when God communicates with me it's not audible. I, personally, don't hear God's words out loud. That doesn't make the talking any less real.
2.) Absolute answers are not necessary. Oh yes - you read that correctly. God does not have to tell me exactly what I want to know. A pat on the back is more than enough - Yes, Sarah, I'm still here.
3) When God talks to us using normal pathways - dishes, walks, a meal, weather, our friends, synchronicity, gifts, etc. - it's valid. One of the most discouraging things about having communicated with God on a personal level for the first time was the response I got from different folks that I trusted and looked up to. The story was just too "out there" for our community's world view. I went through a couple of years feeling like I couldn't share it or expect to hear the stories of others because there was something naive about assuming that God talks to us normal people. Yes - Gideon's story is about an army. A battle. Loss of life and limb. It's serious stuff. I wasn't born when Gideon would've been walking the Earth. I live in a different society with different pitfalls. You do, too. We have something in common, though - we all need what God has: a complete and full life.
4.) When I say that "God talks to us," I am really saying this: If our eyes are all the way open, we will see God shining out of every particle of every person and created thing we come into contact with. The words of Jesus will confront us at every turn. We will be encouraged by things that seem ridiculously small. We will find that when we're absolutely low and beaten down, God is still there - shining out from the cracks in our hearts - pulling us back together. We will be constantly transformed by the One who never changes. I think that God is a great talker. I believe God talks to everybody all day long. It's a matter of us listening. Grace comes before. Grace stays on. Grace encircles everything that God has touched.
That's my engagement ring!
When Robbie knew that he wanted to marry me he had a friend make it in the shape of a butterfly because, "I knew that butterflies meant 'yes' to you."
Yes - it's sappy. After you finish saying "aaawwwwww!" we can zero in on an important detail: Yes. God is an eternal "Yes."
Is there life made complete? Yes.
Is there enough patience and grace for us to endure ridiculous circumstances? Yes.
When we screw up (and we will), is there enough forgiveness to help us forgive ourselves? Yes.
Shortly after that summer encounter with Gideon's story and our work site in Kentucky, I came across a book called The Practice of the Presence of God. It's a collection of writings by this monk called Brother Lawrence. He believed that prayer was a way of life - his imagery for it was excellent. Imagine that your head is open and that a constant stream of information flows back and forth between you and God - uninterrupted. The door was opened and continues to be open, and Jesus has invited us to talk to God uninterrupted. Why not do it?
When I was 17 I thought my butterfly experience was about one thing - one choice. Now I know better. It was about everything and every choice. It was about all of the moments that would follow. Will I live life trusting that it's ok to constantly communicate with God, or will I live life trusting that only certain people get to?
I work part time in a church. I obviously think that you can encounter God in the church. But I do not believe that God's house is the church. I believe that God's house is the whole world. God built it Himself. And I believe that God would love to talk with anybody anywhere . . . and that God will talk any way that any person will understand . . . . . . . .