By Janis Hutchinson
I shall never forget that cold, winter evening, when God made himself known to me. It was unexpected, and shocked me to the very core.
After putting my three small children to bed, I settled back in the Lazy Boy and reached for Saint Augustine’s Confessions. As I flipped through the pages, a heading caught my eye – "Looking for God in the Fields of Memory."
Intrigued, I read his analytical search for God, and enjoyed his thought-provoking questions. One particular question intrigued me: How is it that after finding God we recognize him, when we never knew him beforehand?
Saint Augustine’s answer was disturbing.
He asserted that since the ability to recognize can only come from memory, then by re-examining our past, no matter how horrendous, God would be found there.
I bristled. There was no way God would be found by examining my memories! If there was any truth to Augustine’s claim at all, it would be that by recalling life’s experiences, one could ascertain if God was there at all. I remembered every crucial event that took place in my life, and felt God was definitely not there!
Yet, I could understand God’s reluctance to be present in my life. There was certainly nothing loveable about me. There had been hurt and ugliness in my past, with no rhyme nor reason to any of it.
If only I could perceive any incident in my life that made sense, then maybe I could say God was there.
Grabbing a pencil, I began to formulate a response to prove Augustine wrong. Half-way through, however, I wearily leaned back in my chair, and behind closed eyelids something unexpected happened.
All the events of my life surprisingly erupted, including dramas I thought had been hidden so deeply I would never have to look upon them again.
I attempted to push the unwelcome scenes aside, trying to cram them into the dark recesses of my mind, but they kept reappearing. It was as if my memories were pleading for any explanation to reveal their purpose in the grand scheme of life.
To make sense of their purpose was like trying to read a story composed of incoherent sentences and paragraphs out of sequence. Confronting me head on, they seemed to reconfirm what I already assumed. God was never there for me.
I struggled to free myself of the images, to no avail. A rehearsal of all the bitter and distressing events of my earlier years began playing out before me. I could hear background music – sometimes harmonious, other times dissonant and tuneless – as each life’s event moved forward, connecting to the next in a cause-and-effect manner.
Similar to viewing a movie, I watched old, pitiable scenes play out. Estranged relatives, friends, abusive parents, and other characters moved in and out of view. As I encountered near-death situations, worthlessness, and the time as a teenager when I tried to end it all, I felt no one cared – not even God.
Suddenly, like in a delusive dream, I became both actor and viewer. As actor, I was aware of my interaction with others; but as viewer, I had the unique position of standing afar off and watching the panorama. I could see the cast concealed offstage, waiting for their cue to enter.
My attention riveted to one personality in particular, and recognition sank in – it was God! There he stood, in the middle of my horrible story, measuring the tempo, calling the cues, skillfully orchestrating all the scattered pieces of my life.
Under his commanding gestures, the chaotic events came together in a spinning maelstrom of soul-awakening harmonies. The counterpoints of my life moved in all their crescendos and dynamics, playing themselves out in a synthesis of unity and diversity.
Gradually merging together in a connective continuity, the memories soon melded into a dynamic whole, until the fragmented events were no longer discontinuous incidences, but riding upon a divine continuum.
I continued to watch in amazement, delighting in the effusive experience. God was uniquely taking up all the scattered pieces of my life and arranging them into a definitive pattern – a design that structured the melody of me!
Shocked, I now had to acknowledge a Presence and purpose where I thought none existed. Contrary to what I previously believed, God had always been there, guiding and watching over me. He loved me after all!
But, as with all compositions that must come to a close, the notes of my life’s events began gradually dissolving into the silence of the past, leaving only their combined effect to linger in the last reverberating tone.
In the quiet that followed, the final, impassioned note punctuated the full meaning of my schizophrenic existence, revealing purpose and significance.
As I opened my eyes, my first impulse was to leap to my feet and shout, "Bravo!" Not for myself, but for God who had been wielding the baton and orchestrating my life all along!
Moved to tears, my zero-level image of myself changed, and I saw the real me as desirable to God. He cherished me just as I was, in the midst of all the fears and failures, messiness and mistakes.
I immediately fell to my knees to express my gratitude – to call upon his name, and try in some way to say, "thank you", but those two words were not enough!
I groaned in frustration, groping for some way to rephrase my feelings with more meaning. In a moment of utter helplessness, a frustrated outburst meant only to be rhetorical spewed from my lips; "Lord, how can I say thank you?"
To my surprise, words flooded into my mind – powerful and compelling, yet gently and sweetly.
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
I was dumbfounded. That’s how I’m supposed to say, thank you? In joyous relief I responded … "Oh yes!"
Many years later, I continue to bask in the wondrous afterglow of the experience and in the assurance that whatever scenes lay ahead, even if seemingly discordant and tuneless, God will faithfully be there in the sidelines, guiding and orchestrating the whole, wondrous composition of my life.
Augustine was right. It is at the point of deep introspection and the strangeness of remembered experiences that God’s presence can be found.
Janis Hutchinson is author of Out of the Cults and Into the Church, and The Mormon Missionaries (Kregel Publishing). Her award-winning articles and short stories have appeared in national and international magazines, and translated into Russian and Spanish. She speaks at churches, Bible colleges, and on Christian radio talk shows concerning cults. Graduating Suma Cum Laude, she holds a Masters Degree in Theology, and presently serves as mentor, for the Institute of Religious Research, counseling both Mormons and ex-Mormons.
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