I like clear-cut solutions. Answers that are right or wrong. Things that can be fixed. Formulas. It’s funny that I like these things, because I am a wordy, philosophical English major. This is probably why I drive myself crazy. I see the problems. I want the solutions. And I can’t seem to get from there to here or here to there.
One little microcosm of this issue came to me just the other day when I was talking to my boys about using what we have in God’s service. The context of the conversation was that I have noticed a trend of isolation or privacy in Christian homes as the years pass. People don’t just stay in each other’s homes so much anymore. They stay in hotels. People don’t stay in the home of a stranger if the traveler and the homeowner share a mutual friend. I’m not saying this no longer happens at all. I’m saying it’s happening much less. We are more private. More isolated. More connected VIRTUALLY than we are ACTUALLY. I was asking the boys what we would do if Christians we didn’t know needed a place to stay. Where would we put them? Where would they sleep? What would we say?
They answered sweetly. They offered to give up their room (wonder if the reality would look as spiffy as the fantasy…). They were all over it.
And then Mama’s Boy threw the question at me that I wanted the formula for. He is like me. He wants the code that cracks everything. He asked me this:
If we are supposed to be generous and share our house and our stuff, then how come you don’t always say yes when someone on the street asks you for money?
Yes. Hmm. How come? What IS my answer to that? What is THE answer to that?
That’s a tough one. I told him so, too. Kudos for stumping me, boy. I could say what I’ve heard before: that I don’t believe some people will use the money I give them wisely and I need to be a wise steward of my money. Or I could say that my choices are sometimes random. Or I could try to come up with THE one right answer. Sometimes I say yes. Sometimes I avoid the situation.
Then it hit me. Call me dense, because I’m sure you already figured this out.
There is no one right answer to most of life’s questions.
I do believe in absolute truth and I believe the bible gives the definitive answer on a whole lot of things, including salvation and morality and 1000 other things. But in the day to day interactions with people and the day to day navigation of obstacles, I am just going to have to take it one blip at a time.
But how do I do a good job with that? How do I know what God wants me to do at 3 o’clock in the Publix parking lot?
Suddenly I thought about Isaiah. I can do it by standing within earshot of God’s conversations.
6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy , holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. ”
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? ”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah was standing there looking at God…focused on God. He was humble and intent. Then, he HEARD the conversation God was having. He heard God ask who should be sent. And then he jumped in. He was sent because he was was eavesdropping when the mission was mentioned. He was perched. Ready.
Maybe there will never be a formula. But if I am looking at God and listening for God, I’ll know what to do when someone walks up and asks me if I can spare a whatever.
And that’s pretty much the only formula I need.
I’m going to go wake Mama’s Boy up and tell him.