I was sitting across from a man, I had only met a few hours before, when I was told, “this will be your life.” The phrase printed across the inside of my forehead like a divine flashing marquee. It was so clearly inspiration (and unusual delivery) that it was unmistakable.
But I am sometimes a writer, and I knew that I had a divine grammar problem. “This” is supposed to modify something. I was missing a noun. So, “This_____?” This what? What would be my life? This man? This place? This…what? There were no more messages from God.
A few minutes later, I found out that the man in front of me was married. Obviously, the answer was not that he was going to be my life. Fast forward a few years later, and I married him. He was divorced by then; this is not a treatise on polygamy.
Now, I don’t tell you this to be sensational. I tell you this, so you understand why getting through those years was so impossibly challenging. I was raised and followed Mormonism. I took vows of family and fidelity seriously. Of course! I refused to even be pen pals with him. It took years of weekly fasting and the most desperate and humble prayers I’d ever offered to get me through that period of time. I had to be SURE I was on God’s path— because every other side of me looked like a slippery slope into a gaping chasm of gnashing of teeth. The cognitive dissonance between what I believed and what the answers to prayers told me to do was shattering my brain. It was the closest I had ever felt to God and simply one of the most awful times of my life.
But, in reviewing this week’s lesson manual, I just had to laugh. A talking donkey? An angel with sword raised to strike? I would call that rather sensational. And, truly, isn’t God more sensational than we can possibly imagine?
A scene from Bruce, Almighty (yes, the movie—) teaches a rich lesson. And you are probably thinking you would never have expected Jim Carey to make it to a Sunday School supplement, but bear with me. In this scene, Jim doesn’t believe that Morgan Freeman is God. Understandable, for so many reasons. And so he decides to test God. He hides his fingers behind his back and makes God name how many he is holding up. He flashes faster and faster and God, of course, keeps up. And then Jim flashes his whole fist and God calmly says, “Seven.” Jim triumphantly pushes his hand out to God to show him that five fingers are raised— and screams. Because, now, he has seven fingers.
The thing about this scene is we all know we have five fingers, of course, we do. We know that donkey’s don’t talk. And we know that you don’t marry people who are already married.
The Title of Lesson 16 is “I Cannot Go Beyond the Word of the Lord”— but the ultimate reality is that the Lord’s word goes waaaay beyond us. Sometimes, I think we try to put God in a box and say we will only follow what makes sense to us. We know we’ve got five fingers. We know that while learning about God’s nature is helpful, I think we need to be clear— we are NOT God. Their ways are not our ways.
I think when we are faced with God’s direction, sometimes we react like Balaam and curse and metaphorically kick our ass. At one point in time during my bizarre courtship, I actually came to God in frustration. I wouldn’t say I was cursing per say, but I was definitely in the category of not-so-humble- “Why, oh why did it have to be this way? Why couldn’t it be sensible? And beautiful? Why did it have to be demanding and sometimes ugly? I have been faithful and served You— is it too much to ask that this be a kinder path?”
I was upset.
The answer that came back has stayed with me as an eternal lesson- “Yes, I could have done it that way. And you would have gotten your husband. This way, you got ME and your husband.”
Sometimes the process is the point. In fact, in eternal progression it always is.
The manual states that the intent of the lesson is to encourage us to “submit to God without hesitation.” I waited years before I would believe that I was to marry my now-husband. I think that falls within the definition of hesitating. But I also know that whatever the submission to God demands of us, it is worth it…and probably more grand than anything we had ever imagined.