Seven years ago I met a mother in anguish because her smart, capable son was living in an abandoned house, playing reggae music on the streets, and panhandling when the busking money fell short. He bathed irregularly and communicated inconsistently.
After he graduated from high school, his mom enrolled him at Stanford while he took the summer off to hitchhike around America. He called rarely, so when it came time to register for fall classes, she picked them for him.
After three weeks, her son dropped out of Stanford and began busking and house-squatting.
Two years later, his mother was desperate. She begged me for ideas. I suggested she call him and ask how he is doing. She plotted, “Oh, so then I can bring him home and re-enroll him in classes.”
“No, just to engage with him on a personal level. No pressure for anything. No agenda.”
“Oh yes, of course, that makes sense, so he’ll come home and enroll himself in school!”
“No, just ask him questions like, ‘What do you like about reggae music?’ and ‘What’s it like to live in an abandoned home?’”
“So I can figure out what’s wrong with him and fix him?”
“No, talk with him just so you can get to know who he is as a person; just for himself.”
She snapped, “What good will that do?”
A Season of Fruitlessness
I feel as though I’m in an unproductive season: the church I serve is struggling, a ministry I help is suffering, and my writing feels like the discordant music of an un-tuned orchestra, playing for an untrained conductor, in an echo-chamber.
Even my golf game (which this summer was the best it’s ever been) recently began to look like a six-year-old playing field hockey with a mop handle. It’s objectively horrible. Witnesses laugh.
In my seeming unfruitfulness of life, I keep asking God questions: “Why this? Why not? Why me? What should I do? What should I stop doing? What’s a good plan?”
My prayers are petitioned with uncommonly attentive devotion.
That Mother’s Doppelganger
My bizarre conversation with that distraught mother happened Friday night, April 17th, 2009. It occurred exactly as described. I even wrote it down immediately afterward because this impersonal mother seemed so mercenary with her agenda. And then I forgot about it.
Yesterday morning, I overheard someone quote Psalm 1. It promises that the person who delights in God’s word, and meditates on it day and night, will “prosper in all that he does.”
I thought, “Oh, if I just study Scripture more, then people will donate to that good ministry.”
An hour later I read, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (John 15:5b). I thought, “Oh, I get it; if I seek God for himself, then church attendance will increase.”
And something in my spirit felt God sigh.
Just before dinner, a friend emailed me a quote from Oswald Chambers: “The lasting value of our public service for God is measured by the depth of our intimacy with Him.” I sensed God say, “Just spend time with me, no hidden agenda, nothing mercenary; just to know me better.” And the tiniest of thoughts raced through my head,
“What good will that do?”
P. S. I recently wrote a book all about developing a conversational relationship with God. (I may need to read it again myself.) If you want to nurture a relationship with God, may I suggest you buy Hearing God in Conversation.
Eugene Peterson said, “I picked it up out of curiosity, and I couldn’t put it down.”
Gary Wilkerson wrote, “This is a remarkable book that teaches both how to hear God’s voice in Scripture, and then to hear his voice in every avenue of life. It’s filled with humor, insight, practical tips, and sound theology. I can’t recommend a better guide than Hearing God in Conversation.