Ten 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 rarely called, so when it came time to register for fall classes, she chose them for him.
After three weeks, her son dropped out of Stanford and began busking and house-squatting.
I met his mother a couple of years after he began his street life, and 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 house?’”
“So I can figure out what’s wrong with him and fix it?”
“No, talk with him simply 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 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. Jesus came to earth to bring us back into a relationship with God; so we can grow in intimacy with him; so we can hear his voice. And every relationship is built on conversation. (Husbands: just ask your wives!).
To grow in that divine dialogue, please watch the video below (Is that all there is?), and read, Hearing God in Conversation.
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These have been great, Sam, especially this one. I wonder what hidden agenda’s I have in my relationship with Him? Oh, Father, that you would reveal them to me.
Cheryl A Williams
Great piece, great insight. I can see I do this in varying degrees in many of my human relationships, as well as my relationship with God. Thanks for writing.
Ouch. This one hit the mark.
So true, yet hard and painful to be so honest. Too much me, my agenda, my plan, my hope, my sin. I need Him, for his sake.
This is an amazing post for you Sam. It is more like the Book of Lamentations rather the Job. Unlike Job, who feels he brought pain and suffering upon himself, but seeks to find out “the why”, Jeremiah in Lamentations is mourning the destruction of a civilization becasue of the people who misconstrued God’s purpose.
This post is consequently “sadder” than most of your posts, and even has a twinge of “hopelessness” in it.
The mother in your story has clearly misunderstood God’s purpose for HER life. She also hasn’t a clue about what God is doing in her son’s life and from what you write… she has never even had a heart to heart conversation with him. Perhaps never in his life.
It occurs to me that your purpose in writing this section is to challenge all of us to look at our own relationship with God. To ask ourselves what is the driving force behind our relationship with God and what purpose in life can a deeper relationship with God possibly have.
Like the mother, we are most often looking for “practical solutions” (particularly us men) for the empty feelings we all have from time to time. In a “McDonalds Culture”, we seek the quick answers, if not always the “easy ones”.
Your post seems to say that we will never get what we want by trying to solve the conundrum of our lives in the ways we always have. The mother will remain hopeless but continually striving, until he son becomes more like her, or perhaps dies.
The conundrum we experience in this life is like living on our 110 Volt power grid. It is what it is. We use it in the ways we have been taught and observe the appropriate safety precautions so that we are not electrocuted.
Your post seems to imply that we need to switch power sources. The electricity we have been using is not producing the intended result. If only we could switch to something different, like a 220 Volt power grid. We’d have to move to another country – or travel there – to experience that. And how different would it really be?
Like our old mindsets, we would need to throw out many of our old appliances that we relied upon for years, in order to adapt to this new power source.
God has always been the same. The desire of His heart has been a deep relationship with all of us, believer and unbeliever alike. Seems like we have to change our point of view and throw out our old “appliances” to truly adapt to this “New Power Source.”
It can be done, and God even tells us how…”Renew your minds with the washing of His word.” See life differently than you ever have before. Allow His thoughts to become our thoughts. As we allow God to change us, the “malady” of life will become a life filled with joy. It’s a process; try not to become discouraged over the time it may take. Seed …Time… and eventually, just at the right time: Harvest.
Dang it. I don’t have agendas. Lol! God has this amazing persistent desire to free us from all of my agendas and just love Him so He can fill us with His love (that actually will make us useful!)
Sam, you nailed it with this one. The Holy Spirit does a better job of being the Holy Spirit that we could ever do. Scripture is littered with examples of folks who tried to help God out.
Sam, Against my better judgment–as I read your article, I kept looking for the part where you found what you have to do to FIND GOD’S FAVOR ENOUGH to get what you’re SUPPOSED TO GET! But, No!, that can’t be right. “But, but, God, Sam didn’t start all this on his own, YOU sent him on this wild goose chase.” Note, Sam, that I’m speaking for myself and using your name instead of mine.
Where this has gone in my experience is one part “Book of Job”, and one part God saying “So you don’t like where this is going? Ok. What are you going to do about it?” And my answer is, repeatedly, “Who else has the words of eternal life? Where else is there to go?” Then I say to myself, I’ve learned too much, seen too much, had too many answers to prayer, to think that God isn’t there and that all this stuff isn’t true. It is true, God is there. But what am I gonna do about it? Usually it resolves to the surrender flag.
Thank you for expressing the shortcomings we all have, for bringing them to our attention in order to draw us into a deeper relationship with God. I recently recognized my own tendency to try to bargain with God when going through a difficult time: If I do this, then He must do that. Similar to what you and the mother in your example were doing.
It all boils down to my desire to control God. I want a God who will always grant my requests if I behave and believe the way He wants me to. (Within reasonable limits, of course—nobody’s perfect.) Doesn’t the Bible say that if I behave properly (Old Testament) and believe properly (New Testament), He’ll remove all the suffering in my life when I ask Him to?
But then He reminds me that if He was required to fulfill every request for everyone who was behaving and believing as He desired, that would put us in control, not Him. And some really bad things would happen.
We live in a culture that gives us an illusion of control. I can control whatever I want to if I just find the right app. I need to step back from this cultural mindset. What I really need isn’t more control, but more faith in God and less faith in my ability to run my own life. (Adapted from my blog at https://thosewhoweep.blogspot.com/2019/07/controlling-god.html.)