The best children’s book series, in my opinion, is the “If you give…” series. I like it because it speaks to the realities of cause and affect, and the importance of what Peter would call the “day of visitation”, but does so in a way that children and even adults can understand. Each book begins with someone giving an animal something edible, and then this simple act leads to another act, and another act, and another act, until the day is filled with nothing that was originally anticipated. This is the way of it for mice, and pigs, and the plural of moose.
Who knew that giving a moose a muffin, or giving a mouse a cookie, or giving a pig a pancake, could lead to such a flurry of activity? But there’s more in play here than just children’s entertainment because in truth, much that is significant in our lives comes about because we took what we thought in the moment was going to be an insignificant step:
It was just supposed to be an elective class, but as a result of it she changed her major from drama to global development, spent a summer in Rwanda, and now works for a company focused on global health initiatives. If you give a mouse a cookie….
It was just supposed to be a concert, but Mozart’s Requiem pierced his soul, pouring water on parched parts of it that had dried up due to disillusionment, growing up as he did in a strange blend of Jesus talk, racism, and obsessive social propriety. He wept as listened and tasted again for the first time the reality and goodness of God. This revival would lead to a different vocation that would take him around the world and help him give voice to people doing remarkable yet unsung things in Jesus’ name. If you give a moose a muffin….
It was, for me, just a weekend in the snow, in search of powder and in hopes of connecting with a cute blonde. The words of the speaker at this ski conference, though, were spoken only for me, it seemed, and before the weekend was over, I’d taken a major step in my life which eventually lead to a change of major, a change of college, which of course, would lead to my marrying a different person, and ultimately becoming a pastor, a writer, and a resident of what is, to me, the most beautiful city in the world. If you give a pig a pancake….
We decide to get the wood floors in our house refinished. We move the piano out of the room. We decide the room looks cleaner, nicer, without a baby grand. I envision how nice it would be to own an electronic keyboard and once again write music the way I did when I was young. We start thinking about the meaning of simplifying our lives, and downsizing. Just thinking about this makes me realize how insanely wealthy on the global wealth scale, and how this creates real responsibilities. I read a book on the subject of simplifying. We begin envisioning living lighter and, though getting there will mean more work rather than less, at least in the short term, we decide that this is part of our calling and start walking down a new and life changing path.
Someone watches a documentary on the global exploitation of women. They only go there because they were flipping channels out of boredom. Whatever. Their eyes are opened, and they’ll never be the same, as they take steps to make the world better reflect the justice and freedom that God has in mind for us all. Soon they’re deep in a story much larger than flipping channels and waiting for the new season of Modern Family.
I call these muffins, and cookies, and pancakes, and concerts, and floor refinishings, and documentaries, ‘catalyst moments’. Here’s what all of us would be wise to remember about catalyst moments:
1. You don’t come looking for them; they come looking for you. Theologically, this is what is called the ‘day of visitation’, and we diminish ourselves if we think that the visitation requires a burning bush, and an angel. Visitations happen all the time – on hikes, in concert halls, in pubs, staring at newly finished floors, staff meetings, staying overnight in a homeless shelter, taking a class, listening to a person describe their deep pain or joy – there are lots of moments of visitation.
2. Our lives are richer if we’re paying attention. One of the challenges many of us face is that religion often blinds us to moments of visitation. The religionists of Jesus day picked apart His healing of a man born blind – “Why did this Jesus heal on the Sabbath?” “How did he heal?” “Are you really the man born blind, or a body double to trick us?” They parsed and pontificated, but they never saw. I’m convinced many Christians never hear what God is trying to say. Some of them are too busy to listen, their minds constantly running 100 miles per hour, so that they never see the sunrise, or hear the Mozart or Mumford. Right at the critical moment of intimacy, when his spouse has exposed her soul and his, the cell phone rings. “THANK GOD” he thinks, as he answers and avoids yet again the single most important conversation of his life. Visitation averted.
We need to wake up and pay attention, because visitation usually comes when we’re not looking, and if we’re either intentionally avoiding God encounters, or are just too busy, we’ll miss them over and over again.
3. Our lives are richer still if we respond. If we hope to walk in God’s better story for our lives, it will be best for us if, in our encounters, we respond. If God’s asking you to confess your sin to someone, do it. If God’s asking you to take a class, or visit an orphanage in Romania, or volunteer for a medical clinic, or invite someone over, don’t ignore the prompts. Sure, check things a bit to make sure you’re hearing from God, rather than just reacting to heartburn or lack of sleep, but when you know God’s speaking to you respond.
Robert Frost makes it sound like there’s a single fork in the road - one moment for Moses, or Jonah, or you, or me. Without even trying hard I can think of about five hundred vital, life shaping moments, including: a Sonic game in 1978, watching “The Mission” in a theater in Friday Harbor, a night climbing in Stone Gardens, a hike to Snow Lake, responding to an e-mail from an acquisitions editor, and choosing to go to Los Angeles for seminary even though everything in us wanted to be in the Pacific Northwest. All these forks in the road have made all the difference.
How do you attune your heart to listen for God’s voice throughout your day and week?