Many years ago, I headed to my neighborhood market. I usually do the grocery shopping, so it was a regular, mundane chore.
Prior to my hunter-gatherer tasks at Save Mart, I visited the nearby video store (now long defunct). I rented a few DVDs and continued my errands. Wanting to leave the discs in my car before the shopping adventures, I checked my car’s location and trudged toward it.
In a few more strides, I pressed the electronic “unlock” button on the fob.
I opened the front door, leaned in, 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 the seat. In the next split second, I further pondered: 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 in the back seat, its jaw about 6 inches from where my hand – or throat, shoulder, and other meaty parts of my body – was located.
This was NOT my car. That was NOT my dog.
Faster than you can squeal “Help” or “Yikes” or “Oops,” I grabbed the DVDs and slammed the car door shut. Whew. Safe. Mr. Stupid had survived for another day.
One parking space away, I spotted my car. It was the same make, model and color. Mr. Stupid hadn’t been paying attention! With a bowed head, focused on the next tasks, I’d pressed the lock. Right click. Wrong car. Of course, the owners of my car’s evil twin didn’t lock the vehicle! They had a large, growling hound guarding it!
Later on that same doggone day, someone asked me, “How do you know when it’s God’s voice calling you?”
It wasn’t the best day to seek my professional minister’s opinion about sensing God’s presence. After all, I was the guy who’d just had a close encounter of the canine kind.
I believe it’s difficult to know where our inner chatter ends and God’s voice begins. Decades ago, when going through my divorce, I prayed for clear guidance. But most days were a painful slog through uncertainty. When temporarily lost on a Sierra backpack trip, intensely focused on any clue for the right direction back to my campsite, no biblical pillar of fire guided me to safety.
We pray. We desire help. We, as the Bible implored, “ask, search, and knock.” But, unlike that confident verse, silence is often the answer. We feel alone, unsure and uncertain. Barely paying attention, we keep sticking our head into the wrong car. Or, far worse, we stumble into the wrong relationships, careers and financial decisions.
Help! Yikes! Oops!
Though the holy may seem silent, I offer two meager suggestions for hearing the divine voice.
The first: Wait. Pay attention. Really, it’s that simple and that difficult. As we seek God’s guidance, we need to be open to the many ways the holy works. Extended periods of “silence” may be a reminder that no decision can be made right now to relieve your anguish or to release new energy. So wait. Stay alert.
Waiting is hard. Impatience seems to be in human DNA. Following my divorce – and this personal ancient history remains vivid – I lived with self-doubts and remorse for a long, long time. Broken bones never heal overnight. Scars on the soul will take longer. Time doesn’t heal, but rather what we do with our time. I waited. I leaned on supportive, non-judgmental friends. I waited.
The second: Don’t wait. Ah, see how I can complicate a two-item list! Sometimes, we must act without knowing everything. We will stick our favorite heads into another person’s car. There will be a big dog nearby. We may even get bitten.
But if the action occurs because we are risking healthy, honest steps – and with the “love your neighbor as yourself” command found in all religions guiding us – I believe we’ll sense the holy’s hope for our life. When lost in the Sierra, I repeated, mantra-like, “Stay logical.” If one action didn’t work, try another. And another. And another. And . . .
Wait. Don’t wait. I can’t tell you which one is right for each situation. But I can tell you both are worthwhile choices to consider. Do I wish that God would provide clear, daily directions for my best choices? You betcha.
But, knowing me as I do, I’d probably first look for them in someone else’s car.
But I’d keep searching.
Larry Patten of Fresno works in a Fresno hospice. He is a United Methodist clergyman and a freelance writer. He maintains blogs at www.larrypatten.com and www.hospice-matters.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.