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.
Very good thoughts, and very, very needed…
Your writing is NOT discordant music! Wow! That was fantastic and hit home! Thank you for writing and sharing.
Thanks for sharing this Sam. I’m experiencing many of the same struggles and God is asking me to spend more time in His Word. I am praying for an obedient and willing heart. Please continue to speak the truth in love.
I understand! I’m praying for a heart that wants God alone.
Corey Ten Boom (WW II prisoner in concentration camp) once wrote, “We’ll never know that God is all we need until God is all we have.”
Wow, Sam. You actually captured the essence of true love in this writing. True love is what asks another how he is doing, without any agenda. True love only wants a relationship- with no expectations..
I lack this aswell.I am that kind of mother, wife, daughter and friend you wrote about. Until now, I thought I was being rational, I was being productive, feet on the ground, no wasting time/money/things kind of person….how clear it is to me now, it only means, I do not have love…..
But how to gain this love? I see a long prayer season coming on….
Thanks Sam for talking to my spirit again!
and sorry, I was laughing at your failure…: six-year-old playing field hockey with a mop handle…haha:)
and when I finished…not laughing anymore.
I promise you, if you saw me golfing, you’d begin laughing all over again. It’s so bad I can no longer cry, just laugh 🙂
Your struggles are OUR struggles; we all do it. Maybe different agendas (our kids, marriage, ministry, work, money, etc.) but we all use God to get what we really want.
We need God to purify our hearts.
Love the authenticity, the real, the SAM! Who of us hasn’t been there? And who of us hasn’t had to answer our Lord’s loving challenge, “Would you serve me if I were your only reward?”
We are so blinded by all those other rewards. Alas.
I have had several conversations lately with friends on who God is and how BIG He is and how we relate to Him. I know I can never find the answer to these questions this side of heaven but it has helped me to continue searching and studying and praying….thus I am spending more time with Him. It is amazing to me how my God wants to listen to me, little old me. And how desperately I want to hear Him.
I’m sure all the readers understand your last sentence. The deepest longing of our heart is to know and hear God. And we desperately want it.
My dear husband passed away a little more than 4 weeks ago. After 33 years of marriage, 15 years of full-time ministry together, I now find myself a widow at 55, no longer a pastor or prison chaplain’s wife and having to explore questions. “Who am I? Should this ministry continue? How should it continue? Am I called to do this? Was I simply the helpmate to the one called to minister in this way for this season? What DID you leave me here for without him?” ALL of these questions are answered by simply doing what your devotion today exhorts us all to do……Abide in Him, be separated unto Christ rather than focusing on what to be separated from or to…. “Lord, where do You want to go today? Can I just walk with you?” Isn’t that the purpose for breathing in the first place…fellowship with the One who made me, who redeemed me, who loves me??
Thanks for sharing so honestly. Being honest is often messy…..
I am so sorry to hear of your loss, and then of all the accompanying questions. While not losing my wife, I’ve had the same questions springing from other losses.
And you are so right. Self-honesty is ever-so-messy. Perhaps the only messier matter in our lives is self-deception 🙂
Sam, it’s okay. Thanks for being transparent. I hope you’re encouraged today. I’m finding yur book fantastic. I’m reading it slowly with many other responsibilities on my plate, but I’m close to being finished. It has been very encouraging. Let me say this one thing to you today: I find God rarely answers “why” questions.
Thank you for this piece Sam. Really resonated with me…