When God Says Yes

Cover of "Yes"

Cover of Yes

I focus a lot on God’s “no”s.

No, Sara, you will not be a youth minister this year.

No, Sara, you will not date that boy.

No, Sara, you will not get down to your goal weight in one year.

 

It frustrates me when God says “no.”  I get confused. Each time I am always so certain that I am doing God’s will.  And when that “no” comes, it’s like a kick to the face.  Nos are awful.  Nos can easily send a girl into a downward spiral of despair.  Nos cause temper tantrums resulting in overturned bookcases and countless awkward stares from passersby.   It seems like Christian mentality focuses on this element of suffering, and where is God in this suffering, and how will we become stronger as we walk through the fire.

But what about those times where God lets us have what we want?  What about those times where God says yes?

Those times are tricky.  I think a lot of times we just kind of ignore God’s involvement in the yes.  We forget how God has blessed us out of God’s love for us.  We would rather think about how God totally hates us because we’re such screw ups and he’s going to punish us for the rest of our lives by denying everything that makes us happy and instead watch us suffer like the mean-kid-on-an-anthill-with-a-magnifying-glass-on-a-hot-sunny-day-he is.  I know I do.  I think it is so easy for me to fall into woe and despair.  It is easy for me to blame my unhappiness on God.  It is easier for me to blame my unhappiness on myself and my shortcomings.

But what about when God says yes?  What about those times when our dreams are coming true?

I know you are probably sitting there thinking, Duh, Sara.  You celebrate. But today I realized that God’s yes can be even more terrifying than his no.

You see, last Friday I was told that there was no placement match for me at JVC.  I was extremely bummed about this… it ruined my entire weekend and really made everything that much more sad.  I was so mad at God that I broke my Lenten promise just to spite him, I started to browse for other jobs, and started to apply for a different year of service on the opposite side of the country I had been otherwise focusing on.  It seemed like God would always say no… that I would never be happy… that I didn’t deserve to be happy.

And then today I opened my email and found one that read, Congratulations!  Placement offer! It wasn’t my first choice of placement… but it was the one where I remember feeling like I got along with my interviewers the best.  It is for a volunteer and guest coordinator position at a soup kitchen based out of New York, which is where I would never in a million years imagine myself being at any point in my life.  I am totally doubting myself now that I got picked for it.  I’m just afraid that I am not going to be what they expect, and I am not going to do the job perfect enough.  Now that I have this yes… I feel so much more pressure to not screw it up.

I think the scariest part of this “yes” is that it actually is going to make me move in a direction, rather than sit there and wallow.  As much as I hate wallowing, its become so usual that its almost like an old friend.  But now I can’t do that.  Now I have to go out and do what I have been dying to do–make a real difference.  Start making the world a little better than it was yesterday.  Provide for others their most basic needs and treat them with the love and dignity they deserve.  Let my passion for social justice breathe and burn.

This yes is a challenge, and I know that God expects a lot from me if he is willing to say yes.  I know that these yeses are rare.  This yes requires a lot of trust in a lot of different ways.  And God wouldn’t say yes unless I was ready.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Used by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural speech

 

The Road Not Taken

Today I found God in the most unlikely of places.

I work as a receptionist at my parish and just got off the phone with an 85-year-old woman who was trying to find her way to church.  She was heading northwest on Northwest Highway, but she missed the exit for 68, where she would then find herself on the correct part of Ela Road she needed to be on in order to get to church.  Ela Road is funny, because it splits in such a way that if you are on the part of Ela heading toward Lake County, you have to take NW Highway to get onto 68 to get back onto Ela (I know, totally screwy… obviously designed by men).

So this woman overshot the exit for 68, and she was stuck at a gas station on NW Highway and Ela (the wrong Ela).  She was calling me confused because she knew she had to turn onto Ela to get to Palatine, but the Ela she was going on was not going to go in that direction.  So I was trying to explain to her that she needed to go back and turn left onto NW Highway, then take the ramp up to turn right onto 68, then turn left on the other Ela.  However, she just wasn’t getting it. 

“M’am, look in front of you, what do you see”

“Northwest Highway.”

“Look to your left. What do you see?”

“Ela Road.”

“Okay, you need to turn right onto Ela Road and turn left at the light at Northwest Highway.”

“What? You want me to go left on Ela Road?”

“No m’am. Go right on Ela. Go left on NW Highway.”

“But you said to left on Ela.”

And so it went.  On and on. 10 minutes. All she had to do was open her eyes, look to her left, and see that there was a light she had to turn left at. I know it’s there. I’ve traveled that road many times before. But she just wasn’t getting it.

“Okay, so when I turn on NW Highway, what am I supposed to do?”

“You need to get in the right lane and take the ramp up to 68, and go right.”

“What ramp? What are you talking about?”

“It’s right there, there is a sign that says “Ramp to Ela Road South.””

“But you said I had to go right on Ela already.”

“I know, m’am, but Ela Road will continue from 68.”

“Okay so I go right on 68. Then what?”

“Then you have to go left on Ela.”

“But you told me to go right on Ela. I can’t hear you. I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!! Speak up!!”

And so on. And so on.  I told her she needed to just do it in order to see what I am talking about. But she didn’t trust me. She started crying and saying that she was too old and stupid (her words, not mine). I told her she could do it, she just had to trust me. But she said she would figure it out and hung up on me. And I hung up and exhaled.  I felt so much frustration because this woman just would NOT listen to me.  She was making life so much harder for herself because she kept putting herself down and she refused to open her eyes and notice her surroundings.

And I thought of how many times I’ve done that.  Now. How many times I’ve let those voices tell me that I am worthless, that I have no purpose, that no one likes me much at all.  I give in to those voices because I am stuck at the proverbial gas station, trying to figure my way around after missing my exit.  I just graduated, my life isn’t going the way I expected it to, and I feel lost. I’m not living as authentically, I let my depression get the best of me, and all of this is the result of just not listening to God. But God is obviously on the phone with me, trying to direct me where to go, and I just won’t have anything of it. 

“You’re telling me to open up to my friends, Lord? What are you, crazy? You don’t think they’re all just going to leave me eventually?  Lord you told me to guard my heart… what the heck makes you think I am just going to let everyone take a good looksee at it?  Lord you told me to study theology and be a youth minister… why don’t I have that job yet? What do you mean, bus driving is a ministry? Seriously? I studied theology to be a bus driver? That can’t be it. Are you there? I can’t hear you, can you speak up? Am I stupid?”

But maybe the paths of life aren’t so easy.  Maybe it’s a big screwed up old Ela Road. Maybe in order to get somewhere, I have to make a few turns down streets that don’t make sense. Maybe it will all make sense in the end. Maybe I should just stop thinking, start driving, and trust that God will tell me when I am supposed to turn.

On the phone today with this woman… I knew exactly where she was, I knew exactly where she had to go.  I know that if she had just trusted me, she would have gotten there.

So maybe God knows, too.

BINGO!

Sometime around finals week last year, I became addicted to Bingo Luau, a game at pogo.com.  I also got addicted to a couple other ones… but Bingo Luau was the one I always gravitated toward when I didn’t want to think about anything of substance after a long day of classes.  I also appreciated that it relied so much on luck rather than skill… because lets face it… I got no skills what-so-ever.  At least with a good game of chance I wouldn’t feel like a complete idiot, right?

Anyway. So I get myself good and addicted to Bingo Luau, and then I quit when summer rolled around, and tonight, I picked it up again.  And I remembered… gosh, I really hate bingo.  Seriously. I hate that I have just as much of a chance at winning as anyone else does. I hate how I can have a card full of numbers and the caller doesn’t seem to want to call any of the right numbers.  I hate even more how I can be so close to a bingo, I can be ONE number away, and someone else will win it anyway.  It’s a mini heartbreak every time.  I remember one time, in real life, I played bingo with my grandma. I could have won $500. I was one space away. And some old hag had the audacity to yell “Bingo!” before I got a chance. And what does some old lady need $500 for, anyway? I’m the starving college student, here.

Bingo is frustrating because you have to play the card you are dealt.  You have the option of switching cards, sure, but there’s no surefire way to pick a card that will have all the winning numbers on it, unless of course, you possess some kind of psychic ability, which the average Joe doesn’t.  Chances are that I have a higher probability of losing than I do of winning… unless of course, I’m the only one playing.

So if the odds of losing a game of Bingo are so much higher than the odds of winning… then why do I keep going back to play it?

For starters, in the case of the school year, I’m tired of thinking and need to mindlessly click numbers rather than ponder Heidegger’s metaphysics and how my daesin is always in flux.

There is also some kind of excitement with the game in itself… that maybe THIS time is going to be the time I will be a winner.  And as numbers get dotted off one at a time, this tension grows and grows until either I win or someone else does.

There is also the general satisfaction of winning.  Losing really sucks… but winning feels great.  I love being the person to press Bingo first and look in that little chat box and see everyone write something akin to “AGHHH!!!!! SO CLOSE!!!!!” I love the “It’s my lucky day!”-feeling… that for that particular moment in time, the internet universe gave me… ME!… that winning card.

And the way pogo.com works… whether you win or lose, you still earn points. I’m not sure what to use these points for aside from making a nifty little avatar for myself… but the more I play, the more points I earn.  This way, even if I lose, I can’t get too disheartened, because I know that it was still worth my time to play.

So anyway.  To kind of shift gears slightly, I’ve felt a lot of heartbreak lately in regards to being disappointed at the hand I’ve been dealt.  It all kind of happened at once, and my most recent heartbreak was that I did not receive the job that I had interviewed for and wanted oh-so-badly.  Out of over 200 applicants for this position, I was one of four chosen for an interview.  My interview went REALLY well.  I floated out of my interview like I had just been kissed for the first time by the love of my life.  I thought I had it in the bag.  Today, I woke up to a phone call with undesired news… that I did really great and that they had a really difficult time making this decision, but they wound up picking someone who they felt was just a little better suited for the job.  Someone else beat me to the Bingo.

And it’s so frustrating, you know? It hurts real bad. I was so close.  But the card I was dealt was simply not a winner this time.  In the end, I realize the overall experience was something to be proud of. I was one of four, of 200, picked for an interview. I had prepared for that interview days before I had it.  I was confident in myself, and maintained a decent balance between staying hopeful of the potential outcome, but grounded myself by keeping another job opportunity open that I do want, but is only my second choice as it’s part time.

In the last Sunday’s second reading, the author of the letter to the Hebrews (Paul? Maybe? Probably some kid named Frances) writes about discipline, and seeing our trials and hardships as being “disciplined” by the Lord.  The author writes, ““My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.  Endure your trials as ‘discipline’; God treats you as sons.  For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline?  At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Like a rock in a stream, I am being smoothed over as I endure the crashing water and tumultuous conditions of life.  It hurts, and it sucks, but I am being made better for it.  My rough edges are being smoothed and I am growing into the young woman I was created to be.  God doesn’t give me these challenges because he’s a mean fat kid on an anthill on a sunny day with a magnifying glass. He doesn’t *want* me to suffer.  He wants me to be *better.* Sara 2.0.  Because Sara 1.0 is really not the right version for whatever is in store for me.  And when Sara 2.0 is ready, God is going to give me something really great.  It’s easier to say that than to believe it… but somewhere deep down inside, I believe it.

So this time, I didn’t win.  But there’s always next time.  And when my “Bingo!” comes… I will be all the more ready for it.