A few years ago I went to my neighborhood grocery store, parked my car, and headed for the video store (alas, now defunct) at the south end of the parking area. I found some DVDs to watch over the next couple of days, and returned to my car.
The next moments are indelibly printed in my mind. Wanting to drop the DVDs into my car before I shopped for food, I glanced in the distance to reconfirm my car’s location and trudged toward it.
Several yards away, I pressed the electronic “unlock” button on my car key.
Click. A few steps later, I opened the front door, leaned inside, and tossed the DVDs onto the passenger seat. During that split second of action, I thought . . . Hmmm, I don’t remember a plastic bag lying on my passenger seat. In the next split second, as I backed out, I thought . . . Geez, I don’t think I left a growling dog the size of an elephant in my back seat.
No, I definitely hadn’t left a giant dog standing up in my back seat, its jaw about six inches away from where my hand (or throat or shoulder or lots of other soft, meaty parts of my body) were temporarily located.
This was NOT my car. That was NOT my dog.
Faster than you can say “Help” or “Yikes” or “Oops” or any other one syllable grunt of fear and desperation, I reached in and grabbed the DVDs, slammed the car door shut and looked around.
Safe. I survived. Mr. Stupid was still standing.
And, one parking space away, I saw where I parked my identical-looking car.
Compared to my last car, my current vehicle is relatively common. In a month of Fresno driving, I may have seen a “twin” to my old car once or twice. My current car seems to have clones everywhere. So, head bowed, my mind already focused on grocery shopping, I pressed the remote lock. Right click. Wrong car.
Hey, why should the owner of my car’s evil twin take time to lock-up . . . they had a large dog guarding it!
Later that same day I had someone ask me, “How do you know when it’s God’s voice calling you?”
It was not the best day to ask me for my professional pastoral opinion about sensing God’s direction and presence. After all, I was the guy who had stuck his head into the wrong car, and had come within inches of a close encounter of the canine kind.
Most of the time I think it’s extraordinarily difficult to know where our inner voice ends and the Creator’s response begins. Years ago, when I went through my divorce, I prayed for clear guidance. But most days were a painful slog through uncertainty. Last summer when I was temporarily lost on a backpack, intensely focused on anything that would provide a sign to the right direction back to camp, no Biblical pillar of fire guided me to safety.
We pray. We need help. We, as the Bible says, “ask, search, and knock” and, unlike that confident verse, there seems only silence. And we feel alone; standing still with no way to determine any next step.
Or, unable to distinguish between the right and wrong choices, we stick our head into the wrong car. Into the wrong relationship. Into the wrong job, college, or debt.
Help. Yikes. Oops. And yet, though often the Holy seems silent, there are a few tidbits to ponder following my wrong-car-big-dog encounter. While I would love to provide a specific list of guidelines based on “God’s Instructions For Your Life & Times; Hearing Them, Using Them, and Even Winning the Lottery” . . . that ain’t gonna happen.
The tidbits? Let me suggest two.
The first: wait. Pay attention. Really, it’s that simple and that difficult. As we seek God’s guidance, we need to stay alert to the many ways the Holy works. Extended periods of “silence” may be a reminder that no decision can be made right now that relieves anguish or releases new energy. So wait. And stay alert. Waiting is hard for humans. But sometimes it’s the best thing to do. In the aftermath of my divorce—and I can remember this clearly even though it’s decades in the past—there were many painful feelings I simply had to live with for a long time. Bones take time to heal. So do soul scars.
The second: don’t wait. Ah, see how I can make a two-item list complicated! Sometimes, we have to act without knowing everything. We will stick our favorite heads into the wrong car. There will be a big dog nearby. We may even get bitten. But if the action occurs because we are making an honest effort to take a healthy next step—and where the ancient, truth-filled “love your God, love your neighbor” invitation is part of what guides us—I believe we will sense the Holy’s hope for our life. During the time I was lost in the mountains, I kept repeating, mantra-like, “Stay logical.” If one action doesn’t work, try another. And another. And another.
Wait. Act. I can’t tell you which one is best when. I can tell you both are paths all of us need to take some of the time. I do wish God would give me clear, daily directions and regular updates about impending decisions. But, knowing me as I do, I’d probably first look for them in the wrong car.
(Image of rottweiler from here.)