“But didn’t you say just a moment ago that you had prayed for this kind of clarity? For an answer?”
I catch my breath in the middle of my monologue about “hearing God’s voice.” It’s a late Thursday night in February and I’m barefoot, on the phone with my teacher-turned-friend Bonnie, who has interrupted me with her candor as I pace the prettiest strip of campus.
I had just told her about a conversation with a friend about following well, about the fact that I am utterly clueless about any kind of post-grad plan:
“I want to be obedient,” I told this other friend (and even thought I meant it), “I want to go where I’m supposed to.” I paused to think of the scene in the second book of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, as his Green Lady character remarks on the divine command to stay away from the grounded “Fixed Island;”
“If I try to make the story about living on the Fixed Island, I do not know how to make it about [God.] For if I make it that we are living there against His command, that is like making the sky all black and the air so we cannot breathe it.”
As it is, I do not know how to make the story about Him, thinking as I continued,
“But I’m not sure what direction to step in. How am I supposed to obey if I don’t know what to do?”
Until Bonnie pointed it out, I somehow hadn’t seen the connection between that conversation and the one I’m currently having, bare toes prodding the decorative lettuce somebody decided would beautify the place. As it clicks into place, I realize that perhaps the best and hardest thing about friendship is that you get called on your crap a lot more often than alone, more often than you would like.
“Yeah, I guess I did,” I answer her finally.
So why am I freaking out about this?
Because God doesn’t just straight-up, as-close-to-audible-as-you-can-get, talk to you on the back porch of the coffee shop that doubles as your second home when you’re reading Luther of all people, telling you to stay in Waco of all places, for the sake of that Episcopal parish, of all things.
That kind of thing doesn’t happen, right? First of all, I’d have to get over the phrasing of “God told me.”
Really? He did? Well that’s nice.
And if He was going to tell me something, wouldn’t it be to, you know, do something else, maybe something bigger? More specific? Like plant a church, not just go to church? Or leave the country, not stay in the same county?
Amidst the cynicism, a fierce assurance is somehow planted deep, and it is this coupling that makes me feel like a crazy person the whole week.
And He knows this, too. Tomorrow, next week, you will not feel this way. You will doubt your ears, your heart. Write it down, tell someone–confess it, now.
I do not do this right away. I wait several hours, then call my mother, who (at least in this moment) does not think any of this sounds crazy at all. She is more supportive than I am. I get off the phone as my friend Preston climbs into my car. I tell him too–shaking, chattering, riled up–and he acts as if this is the most natural thing, like he expected it. One by one, friends and strangers nod in encouragement when I tell them, either in quiet response to a question or as a blurted announcement all its own.
Or in rambling phone calls under the green light of Pat Neff Hall.
Bonnie, too, accepts all of this with ease. She tells me that it sounds like this is what I was wanting, that it is an answer, and I wonder why it feels different than I had thought it would. In this moment, a string of words from another conversation, another winter, another issue float before me:
Maybe the brave thing is to stay.
And for an instant, one of few, I consider that perhaps the voice on the coffeeshop back porch isn’t just my unwillingness to pack up and leave, that maybe following involves lingering, that Waco might not be the Fixed Island.
And so, I stay.