The Neurotic Self-examination Department sent me a memo today: I haven’t been very personal on my blog lately.
So in the interest of shoring that up, I’m postponing my last Prodigal Son installment. I want to take time to get the theology right anyway.
Besides – I have a story in the meantime. If you want to know the delights of walking with God.
Last summer, I had an illuminating conversation in Subway with an old youth group friend I hadn’t seen in fifteen years. I linked to the story here, but basically, it was me and him ironically discovering we’d both envied the other’s gifts in high school and dismissed our own. It was the kind of talk that blows the lid off your assumptions about your story, leaves you madly reevaluating.
God’s message in it for me: “Stop envying, and stop resenting yourself.”
Like everyone, I’ve got attributes I wish I could change (not sin, just personality), and I’ve not administered those areas a lot of grace. I’ve not always appreciated myself for who God created me to be. I’ve resented myself.
I filed it under “huh…interesting…maybe God wants me to think about this” and moved on with my life.
Fast forward to last month.
I was attending a retreat run by one of my favorite Christian ministries, nestled into the mountains of central Colorado, in the hope that the dramatic vistas and high altitude might leave campers feeling breathlessly close to God. It was not a hope deferred.
I was sitting in one of the later sessions, chaired by an older man veneered with grace, formed by scars only Christ could have healed. As he spoke honestly about the misery of earlier years in ministry and wishing he could be anywhere else(!), he said something that caught me utterly off guard.
“I envied others because I hated myself.”
A sigh escaped my lips. This again! God was serious. His giftings to us should not be resented because we’re down on ourselves; they should be celebrated because they’re from God. I could now see his preparation in the Subway conversation months earlier, setting up this t-ball to hit out of the park later.
But that’s not what’s really a scream about the story. He had a wink book-ending both moments.
You see, that Subway meeting the prior summer had been borne of a – well, it’s too nuts to be called a coincidence. I’d been putzing around at home that day when my church called: “Someone found your wallet.” I automatically did that reflexive slap of each pocket and sure enough – no wallet. I hadn’t realized it was gone. It had been found lying in the middle of the highway after I drove home, right in front of the very laundromat where that old friend of mine was doing laundry. He spotted it in the road, picked it up, recognized my name from eons ago, and phoned the church. That’s how we’d ended up reconnecting at that Subway.
The only explanation: I’d left my wallet on top of my car when I gassed up – in a town ten miles away – and it “waited” to fall off until I drove past that laundromat. Thus leading to the conversation God wanted to have about envy and grace.
Fast forward again to that night at the retreat.
Right after that old saint’s graceful talk, the retreat staff put on a late movie for us: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Ben Stiller. And if you’ve seen that film, you know that a crucial plot point revolves around…a lost wallet.
The connection clicked in my mind as I walked to my cabin after the movie. I stopped in my tracks and burst into laughter, on a forest path between cabins in the Colorado wilderness. A couple of guys looked at me funny. I didn’t mind.
A sense of humor and a fierce determination to bring us holiness and freedom.
That’s our God.
It was a glimpse through the veil, a haunting, thrilling echo saying it’s all real, you’re not nuts, God is really right there, and walking with him isn’t boring.