Can I Help You Find God


Some time ago I was visiting my parents and went to get a haircut at a shop they recommended. I started praying this prayer and ended up having a long conversation about God and faith with Ted, the barber. Ted owned the shop along with his wife Joanne, who normally cut my mother's hair.

I told my mom about my conversation with Ted and suggested that the next time she got her hair done, she should talk to Joanne about God. She said no, that she knew a fair amount of Joanne's story; Joanne was on her fifth husband and this was marriage number three for him. They knew how to party and how to spend money, but there was nothing about their life to indicate any openness to God.

"You should talk to her anyway," I said. (You don't often get a chance to tell your mother what to do with such spiritual authority.)

The next time my mom went into the shop, she remembered our conversation as she settled into the chair. "God," she prayed silently, in her own form of the CIHU prayer, "if you want me to talk to Joanne about you, you're going to have to give me some kind of sign, because I don't want to do it."

Joanne's first words to my mom were, "Kathy, I understand that you and your husband have some kind of small group Bible study at your house. Ted and I were wondering if we could come visit it sometime."

My mom took that as a sign.

Joanne began to tell her story. She had grown up in a family that was both alcoholic and abusive. It was also religiously divided: her father was Jewish, and her mother was Catholic. Her dad used to take her to synagogue, then when she got home her mom would send her upstairs with a rosary to ask God to forgive her for going to a Jewish service.

Joanne left home as soon as she could. She was drinking heavily by age sixteen. When she turned twenty-one, she had already been married twice and said she could out-drink any man she knew.

She realized eventually that if she kept going on this way, she would kill herself. She found her way to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. But she struggled with the religious part of the Twelve Steps. She felt a lot of animosity toward the Higher Power that confused her so badly as a girl. She could not bring herself to say the word "God," so she called her higher power "Ralph." She knew no one by that name, so it felt appropriately agnostic. She would say to herself that she had turned her life and will over to Ralph. She was for a time probably the only Ralph-ist in the United States.

Until one day at an AA meeting a man entered the circle who had never attended before. He had obviously been drinking just before coming. He wore skid row clothes and a seedy over­coat, reeked of booze and vomit, and could not walk steadily or speak coherently, but he did get out one statement: "I am an alcoholic. My name is Ralph."

Instead of being amused by the absurdity of this episode, Joanne was crushed. She started to cry, "That's not my God." After she told my mother that story, Joanne's life turned around. She and Ted began to open their hearts to the presence of God. And it happened. A hair salon became Bethel, the place where the presence of God became real. God spoke to me through Ted and Ted through me; through me to my mom, through my mom to Joanne and vice versa. In a strange way, he spoke to Joanne through Ralph. He speaks through people.

So your assignment for tomorrow is to look and listen for God in each person whom you see. When you run into a difficult person, hear Jesus saying, "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." When you run into a needy person, hear Jesus saying, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these.. . ." When you see someone you love, allow God to love you through them. When someone confronts you, ask God if perhaps he is speaking through them. When you see a stranger, remember the CIHU (Can I Help You Find God) prayer. When you see a fellow believer, hear Jesus saying, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I. . . ."

Of all creation, only people are said to be bearers of the image of God. So people have the capacity to be the carriers of his presence like nothing else.

Ortberg, John. God is Closer Than You Think. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005, p. 114-116.

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