I had coffee recently with a single, age-appropriate woman who was recommended by the guy who cuts my hair. H, as I will call her, was very pleasant and personable, and attractive, too. But the hairdresser said she was 5-foot-8 to 5-10, although he was a little vague about that and it should have been a warning to me.
H owned up to being "5-foot-1 and a quarter," far below what I’m looking for in a partner. But she was good company, and I figured there was some reason we’d been brought together and I was curious to see what it might be. It surfaced when the conversation shifted from children, former spouses and writing to spiritual beliefs.
A corporate move brought H to Atlanta five years ago, and three years later she lost her job. After 19 months of searching, during which time she started writing a book, she found a job at last. Problem is, she hates the job and loved writing, which she has no time for now.
H attends a church in the northern suburbs that is extremely popular and has generated satellite churches, including one known as "rock ‘n’ roll church" that is particularly attractive to teenagers. H believes that she is generally responsible for her life, but that God caused her to lose her that job and led her to this job she hates, and she can’t understand why.
"I pray that He will show me what He wants," she said, but as of ten days ago she still had no answer.
The idea that God is an active participant in our lives has become fashionable of late. Consider:
• Evangelist Pat Robertson announced that the stroke suffered by Israeli leader Ariel Sharon was God’s way of expressing his anger with Israel’s plan to pull out of Gaza.
• Mayor Ray Nagin claimed that God devastated New Orleans with hurricanes Katrina and Rita because "He doesn’t approve of us being in Iraq" and because black Americans were "not taking care of ourselves."
• After missing a field goal that would have tied the NFL playoff between the Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers, kicker Mike Vanderjagt of the Colts said, "I guess the Lord forgot the football team."
• Finally, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden said recently that terrorists have, "with God’s grace," infiltrated the U.S. and are preparing to launch attacks "with God’s permission."
Presuming to know what’s on God’s mind is tricky business. Still, comments like those deserve some kind of response because they give God a bad name.
I’ve run into hundreds of people who are turned off at the very mention of God. A lot of them, I suspect, have had rubbish like the things Robertson and bin Laden said shoved down their throats under the guise of religion. And, seeing the hypocrisy, the childishness, the violence and the utter failure of reason, they turn away from God.
Which is too bad, because I’m guessing the Creator is nothing like the absurd Old Testament God of wrath, and is eminently worthy of our trust.
I suggested to H that rather than blaming a capricious deity for her job loss, that she take responsibility for it. She frowned. She’d been a good employee, done good work, flossed regularly and never parked in the handicap spots. How could it be her fault?
Well, the same was true for me when I was laid off in 2001. I’d done nothing wrong, I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it was my choice to be there. No one held a gun to my head any more than anyone forced H to remain with her company.
Times changed, and we lost our jobs. Unfortunate, perhaps, but holding God responsible for it is foolish and irresponsible. It makes us out to be victims. And if we’re victims, then we have no power. We respond to life rather than creating it.
I studied for a time with an aikido teacher who insisted that we take responsibility for everything in our lives, including the weather. If you were late for an appointment, you didn’t blame the traffic or red lights or getting lost, you were late. Period. No excuses.
It was wonderfully liberating, and a key, I think, to true spirituality. The more I let go of excuses and agendas and take responsibility, the more powerful I am and the better my life is. There’s even an old saying about taking responsibility that leaves open the possibility of divine intervention: "The Lord helps those who help themselves."
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