Every other Wednesday night, I gather with a group of men and women from my church – the age spread is 20s to 50s, some married, some single, all ridiculously awesome. We share a meal together – we’ve perfected the art of the potluck by this point. We’re talking quinoa casserole, pesto pasta bake, make-you-own-burrito bar – we joke that we all just come for the food, and it’s probably only 50% a joke. There is usually wine and always plenty of laughter, and as we eat we update each other on our lives. Sometimes we answer one of those “break the ice” questions about our most memorable meal or holiday or vacation, and end up sharing stories about eating questionable meat in Swaziland or fish fresh from the ocean in Cambodia. After dinner – which always goes later than we think because we’re having so much fun chatting – we gather around in a circle in the living room and discuss the latest chapter of the book we’re reading through together – it’s called God of Justice, published by International Justice Mission, an incredible NGO that works to end human trafficking around the world.
We all gather and discuss what it means for us as Christians to be engaged in the work of justice – caring for the poor, setting the oppressed free. We talk about what it means to live out our faith by loving others well and being engaged in the work of justice in the world around us. We talk about the particular justice issues – human trafficking, racial injustice, systems and laws that disproportionately affect the poor – that stir our hearts and move us to act.
We talk about how easy it is in the bubble of Silicon Valley privilege in which we live to forget the poor and the oppressed, to start to believe that what we see around us is normal. And we talk about how as people of faith, Jesus doesn’t give us that option. We talk about how “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” (James 1:27)
I look around that room every other Wednesday night and I am thankful beyond measure to be reminded and encouraged that the point of my life isn’t a cozy, easy existence – that the point of my life is to love God and love others, and to steward the resources I’ve been given – time, money, opportunity, energy – to love the poor and the oppressed, to recognize and work to dismantle systems of injustice and oppression that hurt all of us, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized.
Most of all I look around that room and I think “this is what church should be.” I have so many friends whom I love dearly who wouldn’t touch church or Christianity with a ten foot pole and I can’t say I blame them. We – the Christian church, especially the Christian church in America – have gotten so many things wrong. We shout loudly about issues that divide, instead of listening humbly to the stories of people who are different than us, but equally loved by God. We argue instead of praying and build walls to divide instead of opening our arms to welcome. I know I’ve done this, individually and as part of a group, and I am deeply sorry. Because when I read the Bible, it’s clear to me that my job on this earth is simple – to “Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This week we had a newcomer join our group, and over dinner she asked how everyone met, how the group came together. I realized I only knew the answer to that from my perspective – and as the other folks at the table filled in their stories, a lightbulb went off in my head – timing is everything. Dan and Anne, who host the group at their home, shared they had actually wanted to start the group last Fall – they got the books and stood around outside our church after the service on Sundays week after week as part of the “small group fair” and no one was interested. They were both so fired up and excited about reading this book and discussing it, and it just didn’t happen. They were disappointed, but they had plenty of other things going on – it was a busy season for their youngest son, Dan’s job got really busy – so they put the books on the shelf (literally and metaphorically) and went on with their lives. Then, in January of this year a group of us who were new to the church were talking about starting a social justice group and someone said “Oh you should talk to Dan and Anne.” The rest, as they say, is history.
As I listened to this story I felt that “ping” in my heart and my soul of Truth. It reminded me that sometimes when things don’t work out, it’s not necessarily that the idea or vision or desire was wrong – sometimes it’s just not the right time. Our group wouldn’t be what it is if they had launched it 3 months earlier – I was going to a different church, Kristen hadn’t even moved to the Bay Area yet. Those few months of waiting made all the difference.
I have a friend who – after much heartbreak and disappointment – met and married a wonderful man who makes her so happy. He too had experienced his share of heartbreak before they met and at one point he said to her “I just wish we had met sooner” – to which her emphatic response was “I don’t.” She went on to explain that she had been such a different person 5 years before – even 5 months before- that she didn’t know if the past versions of themselves would have recognized and valued the same love and happiness the current versions of themselves did. I love her recognition that timing is everything- that we all change and that the person I am today is not the person I’m going to be 6 months or 6 years from now, that circumstances and opportunities and changes come into our lives that form and shape us in ways we can’t foresee or predict. And vice versa – the people we are mean the things we want and value and are open to change too.
That’s what forces me to come back to my belief in a loving God who is in control – otherwise all the unknowns are too much. The fatalistic idea that if I bend down to tie my shoe at the wrong moment I could miss my sole-mate (sorry, couldn’t resist) sounds like a stressful way to live. I believe we have free will and also that a good and loving God who is above and beyond space and time holds it all in His hands and has us.
As I wrestle with hoping for good things that haven’t yet come to pass it helps me to remember that timing is everything – and that – to quote one of those church cliches that’s annoyingly true, “God is never in a hurry, but He’s always on time.”