“It’s good you’re thinking about these things, Lis,” she said, drowsily. Looking back on it, I know she was longing for a few moments of sleep between a long day and everyone coming home.
It was hot. A humid breeze oozed through the screen. The air conditioner had clattered to an eternal stop about two years earlier, along with the television, the car. There was no money to fix any of them. So we’d climbed into her bed with our books, but I wanted to talk about the problem of evil in the world. How could a good God…? I turned my pillow to the cool side, and pushed the tangled sheet aside. She wanted to sleep, but that didn’t make what she told me any less true. “I can’t answer all your questions, angel, but when God doesn’t make sense, you should look at Jesus.”
Mom loved God, and when she talked about Him, she spoke in Jesus. But the Jesus I’ve been reading about on the Internet, lately? The one that won’t like me if I don’t agree with the politics? If I don’t buy into the doctrine. If I don’t protest the latest cause…if I do? If I’m not the right color, or the right gender, or the right income level? If I quote too much scripture…if I don’t? If I laugh too much, drink too much, eat too much, or not? If I work too much, or not enough? If I have too many piercings or tattoos, or if I look like the church lady? If I’m too educated or woefully uninformed? If I talk too much about…Jesus, or too little?
Somewhere along the line, things got turned upside down. We don’t remake Jesus in our image, He isn’t someone we enlist in our cause—He transforms us. Remember? Remember your first love?
It can start with the mother of all infatuations. You want to be around Him all the time. You want to know everything about him. He’s all you think about. He’s all you want to talk about. You drive people crazy talking about Him. You drive them off.
As you get to know Him, you’re struck speechless and humbled, because you start to see the miraculous everywhere. The smallest thing will give you goose bumps, from a child’s laugh to a raindrop glimmering for thirty seconds in one ray of sun on a cloudy day.
You see people you didn’t see before, people you used to pretend to ignore, people who used to scare you. You’re surprised by the pain in your heart. It takes your breath away. You want to share the hope that’s inside you. You’d do anything to change that look in their eyes—lost, hopeless, hurt or anxious, bitter and defensive from too many hits, too much disappointment.
But you wait, because you’ve started to discern the difference between how He works and your own, desperate, do-gooder instincts, the ones that start with those good intentions but pave that road to…you know. So, as hard as it is, you wait.
Then, one day, it happens. It can take place within moments of meeting, sitting on a city sidewalk, with the sound of sirens coming closer. Or on a sofa, after years of meeting needs, conversation and relationship. You see that tiniest glimmer of hope in their eyes, could it be? Like you’ve thrown them a lifeline at the last possible moment, but they barely trust it. At that point, there is no alternative, so they risk everything and place their hands in yours. And those hands feel so good. It doesn’t matter if they’re rough or smooth, filthy rich or just filthy. You pray with them, but it’s also like you’re watching this from across the room, because it’s really Jesus touching them, healing them, reaching so deep inside they wince and turning their shame to joy.
Afterwards, they smile, and mostly it just looks free. But sometimes, it’s winsome, chagrined, or a little wondering. They’ll say different things that show their new eyes and heart are already working, "I’ve been so awful," or "I’ve drunk a lot today," or "What do I do now?" But always some variation of this: "That prayer we just prayed. That’s what I’ve needed." Sometimes, often, there are tears in their eyes and you tell them it’s going to be okay. They say, "How do you know? How do you know it will be okay?"
Because Jesus always finishes what He starts.
There’s no formula, though, only God’s Improv, every moment of every day. So, coming to know Jesus can happen like I just described, or like this: You face a little girl on a pillow, when you’re so exhausted from housework and children and a job and no money that you can’t keep your eyes open for one more minute. But you smile, reach out a cool finger and brush her hair out of her eyes. Then, before your lids close and the world fades, you point her toward Him and a hope that never, ever, disappoints.