How to live on a need-to-know basis with God

I don’t believe the Bible is factual in the way a newspaper or a science textbook aim to be factual. I believe it’s a story, an important story in our culture, and I look at the stories there and wonder, where am I in this story of Jesus’s birth? Who would I be?

When I look at the Jesus story, the truth is, I want to be Jesus. It’s me, I think, I’m the savior! I have a big job! But the truth is, I fear I’m more like Mary. Remember, Mary wasn’t born looking like the saint on the wall of all the Catholic churches you’ve ever seen. Instead, she was just a teenage girl from a poor neighborhood.

Think of the poorest neighborhood in your city, then think of the teenagers there. Think of the girl at the bus stop looking at her cell phone, drinking a big plastic bottle of soda, or the kids at the food court at the mall, or the noisy teenagers in the grocery store right after the high school gets out. Mary was one of those kids. Regular.

And that’s what I was like. I wasn’t the hero of any story. I was more like Mary, the teen mom, the one no one expected to amount to much, and yet, and yet, and yet, in this story, God comes to Mary (who’s not yet Mother Mary, the saint, just regular old teenage-girl Mary), and, through an angel, God says, “Mary, I’ve got a project for you.

We’re going to save the world.”

Mary is skeptical, at first. She says, “No, you’ve got the wrong girl. I’m not going to have a baby.”

And the angel says, “Yes, you can! God can set it up.”

And finally, after some discussion, Mary says, “Well, ok.”

Mary’s open.

God has a plan, and he doesn’t tell her much. This is how God works in my life, too. I am very much on a “need to know” basis with God. I get a word or two of guidance, a feeling of guidance, but not much more. I certainly don’t get the 20 point plan.

I get “just meet me here.” It’s like I’m a spy – Sydney Bristow on Alias, or a character in a John Le Carre book about MI6, the British equivalent of the CIA. I don’t really know what my mission is, only the next step, and I don’t know what anyone else is doing either. I have no idea what their roles are.

And yet, I show up, as best I can. I show up, stumbling, like Mary, and I try to do what seems to be asked of me.

We look back at the Jesus story and it’s easy to think Oh, the Wise Men showed up, so everyone must have known. There was that star. But for years no one really knew that Jesus had come. God told Mary this thing was happening, and then she was just raising a kid. Like a real, actual kid, who wiped his nose on his arm, and played too rough and talked too much a lot of the time. And Mary probably prayed, “What was that, God, about this baby? Am I supposed to do something, or – ?”

But Jesus was there. It was all unfolding. And the world seems so dark right now. Our nation seems so dark. Things are so nasty politically and getting worse it seems. But maybe the solution is already unfolding.

So, as I move into the new year, I can ask what are the things God seems to be asking me to do now? Things I don’t understand, perhaps? What does God want from me today?

Good question, part of me answers. But I can listen, I can listen for God’s instructions. And be ready to act when I hear the next impulse. I can move as God asks me to, even when I don’t quite understand why I was chosen or where it will lead.

Even when I don’t understand why I’m the one being asked to do the task. Even when I’m pretty sure I don’t look right, swear too much, don’t have enough money or the right family connections.

God has a history of choosing people with poor family connections, after all. And this is how I build a relationship with a God of my understanding: I listen, and act. I listen, and act. Even when I don’t understand, which is much of the time. I listen. And act.

And I wonder, why me, God? Why are you asking me to do this thing? But I don’t need to know.

It’s good not to be the boss, as anyone who’s ever been the boss knows. It’s good to just do your part of the job, without having to worry about how everyone else is doing. There’s a real freedom in that.

So, today, like most days, I’m just showing up.

I’m listening, in my own way, and I’m taking the steps that seem right. The next right step for now. And I will learn more, on a need to know basis, or I won’t. But I can trust God and listen for the next step.

I can trust that maybe I am the right girl for the task at hand. Not a different girl, a richer girl, from a fancier family, but me, me just as I am, the exact right girl for the job God is asking me to do today.

Call to Action

What do you think God might be asking of you in the coming weeks, in the next month, in the coming year? What seems right, even though you’re not sure why or where it will lead? What hunches do you have that might be the whisper of God’s will speaking in your spirit? Email me if you’d like, or comment below.