Recently, I’ve been struggling with the notion of signs. As in, “I think it’s a sign from God.” It’s not that I’ve completely stopped believing in signs-I do believe that God speaks to us- but I think signs from God are rarer than people claim them to be.
People love to see signs because signs help us to look into the future; they guide one in making decisions. They reassure people. But people can’t see into the future. Somehow, if we feel like we’ve seen a sign though, we feel more hopeful and confident that we are on the way to the life God wants for us and we are more enthusiastic that we are making the right choices in life.
Let me give you an example: I once interviewed at a hospital for a chaplaincy position. Reverend Jim conducted the interview, which went very well, and I ended up getting hired for the position. After working there some time, Rev. Jim told me that he received a sign and that’s why he hired me. He said that on the day I interviewed, he went to McDonalds with his granddaughter and ordered her a happy meal. In the happy meal was a doll, and her name was Mandy! Rev. Jim figured this was God sending him a sign telling him that I was the right person for the position.
What Rev. Jim called a sign; I now call a positive affirmation. Rev Jim met me, liked me, thought I was qualified for the job, and when he saw the Mandy doll, it simply affirmed what he already knew to be true—that I would make a good chaplain. It wasn’t a sign from God per se, more like the doll confirmed what he was already thinking.
Much of what we call signs from God are actually just positive affirmations of what we already know to be true.
Also, what we deem to be signs from God are often just wishful thinking. Take numbers as an example. I was born on January 28th, and thus, I got it in my head that 28 was a special number for me. That when it appeared it meant something, like I was going to be lucky or something good was going to happen. I started looking for the #28 wherever I went. My attachment to the #28 became so great that I started to believe I had a special connection to others born on the 28th day of the month. That is until I met Tom. Tom was handsome, funny and an all around good guy, and when I found out Tom was born on September 28th, I practically fell in love with him. This must be a sign, I thought. Born on the 28th! But alas, after I was deeply hurt by Tom, I realized the #28 didn’t mean we had a special connection or that it was a sign from God that somehow Tom was going to be someone important in my life. I had just wanted it to mean those things. It was wishful thinking.
The problem with signs is: if it had turned out that Tom and I had a special connection, it would have reinforced my magical thinking that the #28 really meant something for me. You’ve known people who are hooked to a lucky number; it’s the same sort of idea. Perhaps you have a number, color, song, animal, that when you hear it or see it, you think it means something, that it’s a sign, like God is giving it to you as a hint, but more often than not, it is you yourself who has given that thing meaning, not God. For some of you, this might be depressing news, while for others of you this might just affirm what you already knew.
Many of us want that assurance that comes from seeing signs, and we want to forecast into the future using signs, but it is the nature of God that much of our life is a mystery- how things happen, why things happen, what will happen - we cannot know. What we do know however is that God is at work in the mystery, the unfolding of our lives, and that is exciting.
Right now, this very second, your life is both unfolding and being created. It’s being created in what you choose to think, say and do. It’s unfolding based on what plans God has for you. And while we all have some control over our lives, the truth is, none of us has absolute control. Who you will meet, what will happen, what you will be called to do, it’s all a mystery. Proverbs says that in the midst of this mystery, we should trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding. We can’t figure our lives out like we can a sodoku puzzle. We have to trust in God, acknowledge God in all our ways and God will make for us straight paths to walk down (Proverbs 3:5-6).
While its sort of scary to acknowledge the great mystery of life, it’s also comforting, exciting, and takes some of the pressure off of ourselves. Life is not totally up to us because God is the one ultimately in charge.
Mark 4 says, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain” (Mark 4: 26-28). What this says to me is that life is certified organic. It unfolds naturally, all by itself, just like the seed grows all by itself. We know not how life unfolds, but surely as the grain grows, so too do our lives
When we resist life’s natural growth, that’s when we are miserable. When we fight to change the plan God has orchestrated, that’s when we drive ourselves insane. The more we try to altar the organic nature of things by adding hormones or antibiotics, the more chance we have of poisoning or corrupting life.
Let’s take a moment and think of ourselves as trees, one of nature’s most symbolic creations of the human life:
You are a tree
God is the wind.
And like a tree who allows the wind to move through her branches
We must allow God, who is the force of life, to move through us.
We cannot be so fixed, so rigid
As not to bend and sway
Or else we will break.
We cannot be so full of ourselves and what we want
As not to be filled with the Spirit who moves.
Day and night, we grow
There’s nothing we have to do to make this happen
It happens all by itself.
This is life—that it grows organically all by itself
Life is more pleasant for us when we yield.
When we allow the wind to pass through us.
It’s like a summer breeze on a hot day
Blowing through you
Cooling you off.
Let the wind blow through you
Let your feelings come and go
Let your thoughts come and go
Let people and circumstances come and go.
When you do, your inner world begins to flow.
No longer stuck
You become more than the tree
You are also the wind.
In this way, we become one with the powerful force that is God, and we relax into the mystery of how God works and what God is doing.
What we often call signs are usually either affirmations of what we already know to be true or want to be true or they are wishful, magical thinking. Instead of looking for signs in life, concentrate on growing naturally. Concentrate on absorbing the sun and the water, of sitting in the soil, of letting the wind blow through you. Day and night, you will grow though you do not know how. But trust in the Lord because God is building your life just as it needs to be built. It’s okay not to know the future. Simply relax into the mystery.