Mark and I had brought our young family to eucharistic adoration at our parish. Matt was 9, Monica was 6 and Luke was 4; John hadn't been born yet. This was Luke's first "real" experience with eucharistic adoration, meaning it was the first time we'd explained to him ahead of time what was going to happen and actually expected him to understand; at least we'd hoped he would.
The church looked exceptionally beautiful as we entered. All the candles were lit on both altars, giving the building a special glow in the fading daylight. The monstrance stood on the high altar, glistening before the dozens of little flames that surrounded it.
With Monica kneeling next to me and Luke perched on my husband's lap, we settled into our pew, prepared for a religious experience that would have a profound effect on our little children's minds and hearts. I was exuberant as I watched Monica and Luke's eye dance in the beauty of the candlelight, and I supposed that their pure little souls were being lifted to the heights of spiritual ecstasy. We knelt there in silence for a moment, gazing at the monstrance and taking in the glorious atmosphere.
As we waited for the deacon to begin leading the rosary, Luke began tugging mercilessly on Mark's neck.
"Dad! Dad!" he whisper-shouted excitedly.
"Sssh," Mark warned.
"Dad! Dad-dy!" Luke persisted.
"What is it?" Mark asked him.
Losing all of his whisper to unrestrained frustration, Luke shot out, "When's God gonna show up?"
I was crushed! How could we have messed up so badly in trying to teach our little son about the source and summit of our lives? I could sense the shaking shoulders of the other adorers in the pews around me as they chuckled over Luke's perplexed exclamation and felt the heat and redness of my embarrassment creep up my neck and face. How could he have missed the presence of Christ when he was there on the altar only a few yards in front of us? Not only had God showed up, but he was there, staring us all right in the face.
Waiting on God
That's pretty much the story of my own life, and I'll bet it's at least a portion of yours. How often do we observe something, endure something and wonder when God was going to show up to put things right? How often do we experience something and say to ourselves, "that was weird" without even giving it another thought or shrug something off as a mere coincidence?
Truly, during every such situation God did show up, but somehow we missed him. Not only did he show up, but he was staring us right in the face.
Thanks be to God -- pun intended -- we may have missed him, but he didn't miss us. I think that in considering the question of when is God going to show up in our lives, we might more appropriately ask when are we going to show up in his?
He's waiting there, patiently, longing for us to simply turn our attention to him. Over and over throughout our lives, he sends us signs and signals to let us know he's there. He wants us to know that not a breath do we take unless he wills it, not a hair falls from our head without his notice.
He's there day in and day out, every second of the day, guiding and protecting us in his infinite wisdom and divine providence. The problem is we often don't even realize he's there.
Have you ever had one of those moments when something unexpected happened and you felt a tingle go down your spine? Perhaps there was a coworker you'd spent the entire day trying to avoid. At the end of your shift, you cleverly snuck down the back steps to the parking lot, only to find that he'd done the very same thing. There you stood, looking at each other. Forced to speak to one another, you realize that it's time to open the dialogue about the difficulties between you.
Or, consider the time you were racing through your list of household tasks when the vacuum cleaner broke. Gritting your teeth, and grumbling about not having time for such an inconvenience, you tossed the thing in the back of the car and headed toward the repair shop. On your way, you absent-mindedly flipped on the radio and caught an amazing homily given by a wise priest on the Catholic station. The homily touched upon a dilemma in your life that had been plaguing you for quite a few months; it gave you the answers for which you'd been searching.
It's easy to shrug off experiences like these as weird or to label them as coincidence. They're not weird or coincidental. They're God showing up in your life, and he's waiting for you to take notice. He wants you to slow down, think and ponder the message he just sent to you. He wants you to taste his goodness in a very real way and to be confident in his vigilant providence.
Grocery store revelations
One of my favorite "when's God gonna show up?" moments happened in a grocery store near my home. On this particular Saturday morning, I'd gone shopping alone -- something I vehemently try to avoid. While I was making my way up and down the aisles, I had an imaginary conversation with our Blessed Mother. I'd been extremely disappointed in my own shortcomings and weaknesses of late and I was complaining about it to her like a whiny little kid.
I pulled my cart next to the banana crates piled a few tiers high in the produce aisle. We made fruit smoothies nearly every day in our house and went through bags and bags of bananas every week. The crates within reach were full of blemished bananas; the crates in the back held the good ones.
At 5 feet 2 inches, I was struggling to reach those nice bananas in the back when I heard a voice next to me. It was an elderly gentleman who'd observed my dilemma.
"Here, let me reach the good ones in the back for you. I have longer arms than you do," he said.
He proceeded to patiently pull not one, but four bags of bananas out of the back crates for me. I extended my gratitude and he disappeared into the crowd.
Afterward, I thought about how much this experience resembles the way God works in our lives. He sees our struggles and shows up unexpectedly. We probably didn't even notice his presence. Then, he helps us reach past the blemished bananas -- our shortcomings and weaknesses -- to the good ones in the back -- the ideal for which we long and strive -- because he has longer arms than we do.
God shows up in our lives like that repeatedly. In fact, he shows up all day, every day. He shows up in friends, family, strangers and even our enemies. He shows up in the joys and sorrows, in the exciting and the mundane. He shows up when we least expect it and in ways we could never imagine. He shows up because his love and mercy for us is so deep and profound that he can't help but show up.
When is God gonna show up in my life?
We all want to know when God is going to show up in our lives, but the more important question is when are we going to show up in his? He's always there for us, actively working in our daily life with his divine providence. Here are a few ideas to help you notice when God shows up in your life.
Keep an open mind and heart. Try to see things with the eyes of a child. Children take things in without pre-judging or analyzing.
Don't be so quick to pass things off as weird or coincidental. Don't ignore the tingle going down your spine or the bells that go off in your head when something happens. Those are signals that God's trying to get through to you.
Maintain a journal or notebook for recording your experiences. Jot down things as they occur to you -- no matter how far out they might seem initially.
Take time each day -- even if it's only a few minutes -- to reflect on each of the big and small ways you witnessed God's providence in your life that day.
Pray. Ask God to reveal himself to you in ways that you'll be able to see and understand and for the grace to interpret them correctly.
Marge Fenelon is the author of "When's God Gonna Show Up?: Daily Discoveries of the Divine" (Liguori, $16.95).