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Finding God

One year I took a 4 a.m. Christmas morning  airport shuttle alone with a sweet driver.  “Merry Christmas,” he said and handed me a candy cane.  We chatted for a bit, and then he asked me what I did.  I told him that I’m a part-time math teacher and pastor.  And he shared with me, with much pride, that his daughter has graduated from seminary and would preach her first sermon in the new year.  “I grew up Baptist,” he said.  “So, you know, worship was always happy and singing loud, clapping.  But I wish they would have taught us about God, who God really is.  Because, if you’re not happy, then that made it hard.”

Of course, I come from a tradition with the opposite criticism.  Presbyterians have been criticized for being too intellectual about God — too heady with not enough heart.  However, the shuttle driver was right.  When we don’t feel God or when the hair on the back of our neck doesn’t stand up from the prompting of the Holy Spirit or we don’t get those goosebumps, we are likely to think that God isn’t actually there… if we haven’t been taught otherwise.

A lot of people would say that the job of a pastor is to teach people about God.  And while I agree that this is a piece of my job, I think one of the most important and most underappreciated pieces of my job is to point out what God is doing in the world today.

I recently had a misunderstanding with a friend of mine.  I was hurt that this person wasn’t sharing details of their life with me.  When we care about someone, we want to be part of their space — their highs, their lows; we want to experience what they experience, even if it is secondhand.  We want to share life together, because if we don’t share life, then do we really even have a friendship? The challenge is that when we don’t experience God through feeling or heart, we may think God isn’t sharing life with us.  We may not notice God there at all.

For all our criticisms, Presbyterians have several tools we use to connect with God — even when the hair on the back of our neck is not standing up:

Read the Bible. Of course, this sounds simple — but it is not always easy to do.  When we are not experiencing God, we sometimes forget that God’s work within history is written down for us.  When we read and reflect on who God is (just like the red car phenomenon: when you buy a red car and then suddenly see way more red cards on the road), we just might find God is there after all. And, as a typical heady Presbyterian, I would add here that we could also pick up a book about God written by a human.  No, it’s definitely not the same thing as reading the word of God, but a book about God is shared experience of God from one to another!

Talk about God to another person.  That conversation on the drive to the airport reminded me that God is all around us. Pastors love to explain everything through God at work — so start by mentioned where you’ve noticed God lately.

Wait and reflect on where you’ve been. Be patient. This one can be so frustrating, but we should not be quick to give up on God, because God will never give up on us.  A woman in the first congregation I served used to call the second piece of this “memorials” (she would talk about reflecting on the memorials in her life) — where God has taken us and those mountaintop and valley experiences where we experience God closely and personally.  This always makes me think of hiking cairns — those stacked rocks that reassure you that you are still on the trail.  I think of those stacked rock experiences in my life where I recognized God clearly and confidently followed God along the way.  In hindsight, we often see the present and even the future more plainly when we look in the rearview mirror first.

Like a typical Presbyterian, when I find my heart isn’t finding God, my head truly helps.  I pray yours does too!