In 2007, I wrote a post (here) about what happened to me when I visited the scene of a whole bunch of crimes (most of the PG-13 variety at that point in my life) after three decades had passed. My husband Bill and I headed to the cornfields of Central IL to see Shakespere’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and I had an opportunity to revisit the campus where I’d been a student in the late 1970’s. As I am working on a chapter for my upcoming book on the topic of regret, this episode has come to mind as an illustration of how God may answer a prayer he longs to hear from us. The prayer is, “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” (Ps. 86:11)
God’s work is to heal, to restore, to make whole. Every time Jesus healed someone, he was proclaiming the kingdom where members flourished because he alone had the power to make their divided hearts whole. Healing meant they were no longer at war with themselves, with others or with God. It is a mark of peace that goes beyond our reason, our truces and our own fumbling attempts to put our broken pieces back together.
>Here’s an illustration from that old essay of what it might look like to experience a bit of wholeness:
Yesterday, we walked around Normal a little bit and then strolled Illinois State University’s beautiful quad. This part of the campus looks like what a college should look like: a castle, majestic old buildings and classy new ones, added over time like a collection, all surrounding majestic old trees and manicured paths in the middle of the campus. We walked over to Fell Hall and stood in the shade of a giant oak talking for a while. I told Bill I wanted to sit on the steps in the hot summer sun and pray.
Sitting on those steps as a college student 30 years ago introduced me to my own imagination. Fell Hall, known back then as International House, was a dorm full of foreign students, art and theater majors, along with a handful of eccentric others like me. It was the only dorm that sat directly on the quad, and those front steps made a perfect spot to play what became my favorite college game: Guess The Major. One friend in particular, a special education major, would sit with me as we watched the passers-by, and not only try to guess people’s majors, but describe their lives, history, and futures.
It was a sometimes judgmental, snarky little pastime. (I’m sorry for that part, Lord.) But it taught me the pleasure of really watching people, to observe, to listen to snatches of conversation, to reach into the ether to capture something beyond what I could see and try to translate it into description. It taught me to sketch a story quickly, with broad brush strokes and neon-colored spray paint as if I were a verbal graffiti artist.
Yesterday, when I went to sit on those steps to pray, I was ambushed by a moment of transcendence: The present-day Michelle got a split-second glimpse of 18 year-old Michelle and welcomed her: it was as if we became one in that moment. I was that overall-clad little hippie girl who was sure her career path was to teach deaf kids, and I was a 48 year-old grandmother who’d made a life out of sitting on the steps and telling stories. And all I could do in that moment was praise God. I was a little more whole when I rose from those steps and walked into my future.
I think this is one aspect of the shalom (the peace, blessing and welcome) that Christ promises us that we may not always hear in a sermon. Often that peace is spoken of in legislative terms (“We were once at enmity with the Father; now because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, we have peace”). That’s true, but it is not the whole story. We are being re-created, we are being made anew. Jesus’ conversation with the older man Nicodemus reflects Christ’s intent for each of us.
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked, “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4) Put another way, How can someone like me have the disconnected pieces of themselves, the sins and failures and victories alike, made whole? How can I begin again with God with all that history, all those regrets?
That unexpected moment on the steps of my old dorm was a powerful “heaven-invading-earth” experience for me. Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (vs. 17). Condemnation is an acceptance that there will always be division. Jesus came so that condemnation would not have the last word in our lives and in the world that he loves. He does for us what we are incapable of doing for ourselves. He saves, he heals, and he restores.
I am grateful that I was so wrong about the story I created at 18 for myself. My Guess The Major prophecy about myself would have netted a false-prophet stoning. At midlife, as regret is being reconciled, I recognize that asking God for a united heart is the way in which I can reverence him with all that I was and all that I am right now. No Guess The Major at work today. I can trust that he is the author of my story.
Have you ever had a moment when you sensed that God was reconciling your past with your present in an unexpected way? What surprised you most about it?