“How’re you doing with God?” I asked Ling during our “special time.”
I’ve been a “professional” Christian for 21 years, so you’d think I ask that question often, but we usually talk about school and friends.
So imagine my guilt when she said, “Terrible!”
“Really?” I said, “What’s going on? Are you an atheist now? Are you struggling with believing God exists? Do you have a lot of big questions?”
She looked at me like I was crazy. “What?!?” she almost shrieked, “Who do you think I am?”
Well, in all honesty, I don’t know! New moods or challenges arise by the minute so that I’m not always sure who I’m talking to day by day. And I wrestled with those very God questions when I was 14. Frankly, I still wrestle with big questions today.
“So why are you doing terribly spiritually if you still believe in God?” I asked.
Turns out, it’s because she never “hears” from God. Apparently our church youth group emphasizes listening to God with one’s intuition, where words or pictures come to your mind. Other kids “hear” all sorts of things, but Ling says her mind’s just a blank.
Wow! Like mother, like daughter!
I spent several years in high school thinking God didn’t really love me because no matter how I asked, I never received the baptism of the Holy Spirit manifest through speaking in tongues. I joke that I’m the anti-charismatic. I believe in a supernatural God who works in supernatural ways, but rarely does anything supernatural happen to me.
It was time to hit the basics.
“Ling,” I said, “What’s the #1 foolproof way to hear God?”
“Um, I dunno.”
“Think! Think! You know the answer.”
To myself: How did I miss teaching this most simple concept???
“Here’s a hint, it’s a book. . .”
“Oh. . . the Bible?”
“Yes! Ding! Ding! Ding!” Ling rolled her eyes at my Whole Foods gelato counter dramatics, but I continued, “The Bible tells us 99% of what we should do with our lives—love God, love people, show kindness, mercy, humility, care for the poor, set free the oppressed, etc.”
Because she still seemed interested, I went on to talk about other ways we hear from God, wise counselors, community, tradition, circumstances, and yes, even the still small voice that whispers in our hearts.
Kai-Kai also doesn't "hear" from God. But she doesn’t seem to feel bad about it. At dinner, she said, “Oh, I think ____ is just faking it,” mimicking things this other child “hears” from God, and making us all laugh.
Giving _____ the benefit of the doubt, I pointed out that if this person hears “God loves us” it’s true whether there’s faking going on or not.
And isn’t that the trouble? We assume God’s up there judging us for how insufficiently we do our “spiritual thing,” how so often it feels like we're failing or faking, when in reality, God's waiting to run to us like the "prodigal" father when we finally turn towards home.
I hope Ling was encouraged by our conversation. I hope she won’t struggle as I did with trusting God’s love. Frankly, as long as she’s willing to keep talking with Jesus and trying to hear His voice albeit imperfectly, I don't think it's possible for her to do “terrible.” Instead, I bet God thinks she’s doing just fine.
Note: Ling gave me permission to tell this story and even use her name. You've probably noticed that I try to keep my kids anonymous when there's questionable behavior happening!