Here is my office.
My work is to talk to children about how wild and wonderful are their world, their God and other people—and how fiercely and forever and unconditionally loved they are. I teach them about grace; how grace means that they can relax because there is nothing they can do to make God love them more and nothing they can do to make God love them less. I teach them that the world will try to convince them otherwise, but the truth is that all they really have to do, their whole lives long, is bask in the light of God’s love and then reflect it onto others. I do this work because everyone should figure out what she believes to be the most important work in the world and just go do it.
So this morning I waited there, right in front of the altar while the little ones waddled in like geese—single file, squawking, looking so tiny inside the massive sanctuary. There is no way to describe how precious they were with all the heads swiveling around at the soaring ceilings and all the pinching each other and all the trying not to giggle. I’ll just say that my heart did that thing that happened to the Grinch—remember when his heart swelled so many sizes that it almost burst? That’s why I go to church—for the heart swelling. The heart swelling is the only buzz I have left. Luckily it’s the best one I’ve found: the kind of buzz that leaves me better and bigger instead of worse and smaller. Anyway—looking at those Joy Beings walk towards me, I wondered if this time my heart would swell OUT of me and I’d start floating above the pews like a Macy’s Day balloon.
At the end of the little geese line was a new student wearing a name tag that said: Ryan. Ryan was a head taller than the other children and his eyes were dark and deep, like wells you can look into but never find the bottom of. I was immediately drawn to this little man with the big, deep, sad eyes because I agree with Dr. Who: Sad is happy for deep people. I winked at Ryan. He grinned, but just a little.
My friends Nancy and Susan started the lesson and we sang and we danced and then we quieted ourselves and went into our still, small place in our hearts where we can listen for God. Then half way through our quiet minute: my big-eyed friend motioned to me in a way that said: can you come here? But can you not make a big deal about? So I went over to Ryan but I didn’t make a big deal about it. I just casually sat down next to him and kept facing forward so he could take his time telling me whatever he needed to tell me.
Finally, he tapped me on the shoulder and I leaned down close. He looked around the big sanctuary and he said:
“Excuse me. Is God coming?”
Then Ryan looked around again, like he was expecting God to show up here like Ronald shows up occasionally at McDonalds. And I just stared at this little man who had just asked me the question that every single human being who has ever looked around a fancy sanctuary or a busted up family or a hurting friendship or a shocking diagnosis or a messy world is thinking:
“Excuse Me. Is God Coming?”
I swallowed hard and I said: “Ryan. That is the best question I have ever heard. Just the best one. Listen, I won’t if you don’t want me to, but I gotta tell you—I think your class needs to hear your brilliant question. May I share it?”
My big-eyed friend’s eyes got even bigger and he tried to contain a proud little smile and he nodded to me.
I stood up and said, “Miss Nancy, I am so sorry to interrupt you, but this person has just asked the most honest, beautiful, important question I have ever heard anyone ask in my whole entire life. He looked around this room and he said, “Is God Coming?”
And it got really quiet and I looked at my friend and tried to respond. I babbled, really. I said, “I don’t have an answer, no one does, really. But here’s my hunch. I think God’s already here. I don’t think we wait for God to come as much as we bring God to each other. I think God is inside me and you, Ryan. It’s like… you know how cookies have sugar in them and that’s what makes them delicious? We have God in us. That’s what makes us delicious. And I think God sent US to be here for each other because God’s inside of us–so God knows that if we show up–God’s here too. God sends us to each other. Because we are all God’s family and sometimes family members send each other. You know how sometimes your daddy sends your mommy to pick you up and sometimes your mommy sends your daddy?”
And all the little ones raised their hands and nodded except for Ryan. I stopped and looked right at him. He said, “My daddy doesn’t pick me up. My daddy’s in heaven.”
And Nancy and Susan and I froze because suddenly those deep eyes made perfect sense and all the kids got really quiet in holy reverence for Ryan and his daddy and his questions—and there is no chance that in the history of the entire world there has ever been a more brutiful, silent moment.
And I let there be silence for a long minute and then when I finally pulled myself together, I walked over to Ryan and silently prayed PLEASE GOD HELP ME BE PRESENT FOR THIS AMAZING BOY YOU SENT and then I started speaking really quietly to him. I said, “Ryan, your daddy is in heaven?” And he nodded. And I said, “I see. Well my guess would be that God and your daddy are together there, and that God sent me and your teachers and these friends to be here with you today. So that we could love you for God. I think that God loves you more than you can even imagine. And I love you too, Ryan. I can’t believe how lucky I am to know you. I think that God sent you here for me, Ryan. Because you are just one of the most special people I’ve ever met. You have beautiful questions about God and you are honest and kind and I just think that you are my gift from God today, Ryan. Thank you for showing up here. I’m glad I showed up, too. Magic happens when we go where God sends us, doesn’t it? It’s like God sends us places to meet God in others. And to be God for others.”
And then I just went out on a big limb that appeared in front of me.
“Ryan, I don’t know how you can know if God is here or not. But here’s what happens to me when I notice that God is with me. My hearts starts to feel bigger. It feels like it’s swelling up. It feels like it’s getting so big it might crawl up through my throat. Like right now, next to you—my heart feels huge. Like somebody pumped it full of air. I think this heart swelling is sometimes how God reminds me that God is with me.”
And you guys. Ryan’s face—the face that had been so serious and so sad—broke into a smile that made it abundantly clear that God used the heart swelling trick on him, too. But he just didn’t know it was God doing it. And then he said quietly, “I know what you mean.”
Is God coming?
I know what you mean.
Have there ever been two more perfect, two more brutiful sentences uttered?
Then I asked Ryan if I could hug him and he said yes and he squeezed me tight and then Nancy had to take over completely because I could not speak for the rest of our time together. Just not one more word.
I love you.
G and Ryan
“…have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.”
― Alice Walker, The Color Purple
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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