As I drive past the family whose car has broken down in the grassy median of the highway—noticing two wiggly toddlers just one dash away from disaster—the words I've always told my own children, while traveling, echo in my ears: "We're not going to stop for this healthy-looking, able-bodied man who's standing beside his so-called 'broken down vehicle,' kids. But of course we would stop if it were an old granny, or a teenage girl, or a friend who uses a wheelchair, or . . ." (I can get really creative when trying to beef up the list of imaginary people I'd, theoretically, stop to help.)
The convenient words now mock me as I pass this vulnerable little family beside the heavily traversed interstate. I feel the gentle nudge of God's often-inconvenient Spirit tapping my shoulder as if to say, You're driving home from work alone in a car with two empty toddler car seats in the back. Doesn't it sort of seem like this one has your name on it, girl?
In my heart, I grudgingly mutter, Yeah. I guess. Whatever. Fine. I'll turn the stupid car around at the next stupid exit.
I wish I were like one of those biblical cool kids—Samuel hearing God's voice in the temple or Mary agreeing with the angel Gabriel to do something her community was certain to find horribly shameful. I wish I were like these God-followers who seem so ready to respond to God on a dime. Slow to listen and sluggish of heart, however, I'm not. I'm clearly not.
For better or for worse, in my life submission to God most often begins with, God, let me tell you all the reasons I can't do this thing . . . And on my best days my heartfelt monologue ends on, Whatevs. I'll do it. But only because I want to!
I'm more than willing to entertain the possibility that this is why I'm not God's go-to girl for the more prestigious assignments . . . like Savior-bearing. Yet, in the end, I submit. I agree—grudgingly—because I'm convinced that what has marked God's people throughout history is one thing: We say yes.
As a college student, I looked out the window of my parents' fifth story Southern California condominium to see an old woman slowly shuffling down the sidewalk toward the beach. Her bright red Christmas sweater belied a weary gait and sad face. As I watched the woman, I felt a nudge in my heart to move toward her.
As is my way, I started in with some of my best excuses: By the time I get downstairs, I'm sure she'll be gone.
Me: But that's just weird. She probably doesn't want me all up in her business.
Me again: Isn't it just a little bit presumptuous to think I have anything to offer a complete stranger? Really pretty patriarchal and overbearing, if you ask me . . .
And again: She probably has tons of friends beating her door down to go on walks together. I don't want to be one more person she's got to get on her schedule.
And finally: Fine, fine, I'm going. But this is weird, God. It's really weird. I'm sure she'll be gone when I get down there.
By the time I'd dashed down five flights of stairs and made my way through the building's parking garage, the woman in red had traversed only five squares on the sidewalk. Like a creepy stalker I sidled alongside her.
"Hi, how are you doing today?" I asked, suddenly feeling like a weird sidewalk telemarketer. The woman explained that she wasn't doing well. She was lonely. Concerned about a granddaughter. She actually shared more than I would have expected.
"I'm Margot, what's your name?" Her name was Patricia.
We became friends. It got less weird.
And though I'm clearly haunted by the super-human faces I've given to Samuel and Mary, many more Bible humans were, it seems, a bit like me. Consider Moses: "Umm . . . while I appreciate the thought, and am very flattered by the offer, I do not think I'm your guy." And even Jesus: "Not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42 NIV).
Not the worst company in which to find myself.
So though my default setting is clearly dialed to, "Not your will, Lord, but mine be done," I have (sometimes grudgingly, other times crabbily, and usually reluctantly) purposed to be a yes-woman.
I have a couple of married friends who fuel my passion to get more on board with whatever nutty schemes God has whipped up for me. Stephen and Laura are completely sold out on saying yes to God. They've tasted and seen that a yes-life with God is infinitely more satisfying than any alternative. So, to make space for yes, they've also said a bunch of nos.
- No to finding out what's new each week at T.J. Maxx.
- No to regularly scheduled, luxurious vacations.
- No to four hours a day at the gym.
- No to pricey, gossip-driven lunches with friends.
Their nos have freed Stephen and Laura to say yes to God's invitation to life that really is life:
- Yes to shoveling a neighbor out of the polar vortex snowstorm of 2014.
- Yes to coming alongside a friend who's suffering.
- Yes to coming alongside a stranger who's suffering.
- And, convinced that yes is what we're made for, yes to joyfully inviting reluctant others—like me—to say yes more often.
As I watch Stephen and Laura, whose kids are grown and just out of the house, I can tell you that they are living the good life. They know what C.S. Lewis seemed to know about God, cloaked as a royal lion, when Lewis penned the Chronicles of Narnia: "He's not safe. But he's good."
As you purpose to tip your ear toward the sound of God's voice, it's fair to expect that you may be inconvenienced. You may be stretched. Your wallet may become a little thinner. Chances are good you will be asked to take a risk. What is certain is that as you say yes to God—either the flimsy reluctant one I too often offer, or the robust adventure-seeking yes of my friends Stephen and Laura—you, too, can taste life that really is life.
It's what we were made to do.