It wasn’t what I had in mind when I told God I needed to get out more, but the invitation was so timely (and more importantly, so persistent) that I couldn’t imagine it to be anything but God saying, “Okay, here’s your chance.”
“Call me when you get off work,” he said. And because I’ve grown to love this man via stolen snippets of conversations in bathroom doorways, I found myself standing at a gas station at eleven o’clock at night, punching his number into my phone along with the words, “Do you still want my boring company?”
Next thing I know, he and his buddy are pulling into the parking lot, telling me to climb into the car. (This is what my mother has since referred to as “not very smart,” but I had weighed my options and decided—however illogically—that there was simply no other choice, so into the car I went.)
Somehow, I’m the one who is expected to make plans, only I’m terribly bad at making plans in general. I am especially bad at making plans when it comes to having to think of something to do in town in the middle of the night, since I’m normally at home reading books at that time.
This is when they find out I don’t drink. There is somewhat of an uproar from the backseat as my friend is trying to wrap his alcohol-hazed mind around the fact that I have never in my twenty-four years of life had an alcoholic beverage. Never as in… never.
“Here’s what I want to know,” he said. “If you don’t drink, why in the world did you think it was a good idea to hang out with us?”
I couldn’t very well tell him about the conversation that had taken place between me and Jesus that afternoon (the one about how I never actually do anything and how I really should be more intentional about spending time with other human beings), so instead I reminded him that technically he invited me, almost to the point of begging. This was his idea and I was just along for the ride.
So they decided to initiate me into their world. And that is how I ended up in bar with two guys I barely know in the middle of the night. (Again with the motherly admonitions of “really bad idea.” I know, I know, but God dumped these guys into my life and I was just trying to figure out what to do with them.)
We’re nodding our heads to the beat of “Another One Bites the Dust,” when my friend surmises that I probably want to leave. At this point—dare I say it?—I am immensely enjoying myself and I will leave whenever they are ready, but they don’t need to fuss over me. However, they did fuss over me, probably because I was somewhat of a contradiction and quite obviously out of place in this bar.
“So, you don’t want another drink…” (Yes, I did let him buy me my first drink, mostly because his brain was impossibly close to exploding over the fact that I had never—wait, really, never?—drank alcohol.) “…but you don’t want to leave?”
That pretty much summed it up. So we went out for air (and by air I mean, my friend pulled out a cigarette while I tried my best not to breathe too deeply of the secondhand smoke).
“I don’t get it,” he said. “Why are you here?”
“Because you begged me,” I playfully reminded him for the thirteenth time.
He shakes his head, unamused. “I just feel like this is a bad kind of different for you. Isn’t it?”
He is looking at me like he is daring me to disagree. Like he is half-expecting me to pull out my soapbox right there on the street corner and start preaching hellfire and damnation. And I think about how it would be a great place for a soapbox. I can imagine a white-haired, scowling-faced man with a sign standing right under that street light, declaring that the entire establishment and everyone in it was going to hell, probably myself included.
Me, I don’t have a soapbox. I just have a heart full of love for the man that makes me laugh with his endless supply of jokes about wheatberry bread.
So the question. Is this a bad kind of different? Who gets to determine which kind of different is good and bad? While it’s not a lifestyle I would choose for myself—not one that would appeal to me on the daily—it is his lifestyle, and that is inherently what he is asking me about. What do I think of his lifestyle? What do I think of him?
A bad kind of different, isn’t it?
I leaned against the other side of the pole where he stood and did what Jesus would do in my situation. I answered with a question.
“I came, didn’t I?”
It’s the kind of question that can pass as an answer because he knows I am aware of his lifestyle. I knew exactly what I was getting into, and I chose to come anyway.
His eyes clouded in confusion. “Yeah. Yeah, you did.”
I’ve spent the last three weeks mulling this experience over in my mind, trying to figure out how to tell this story in such a way that I can tie it up with a pretty little bow. But the truth of the matter is that life is messy, and sometimes the threads of our stories don’t weave together as perfectly as we might hope. Just like it’s true that sometimes we find God in bars more profoundly than we do in church services.
My life has been loud lately. Loud, and messy, and confusing. And when I sat down this morning to try to sort through some of the messes, I found myself disgusted with some of the things I uncovered. I sat over my Bible, picking out promises of hope in the midst of it all, and couldn’t help shaking my head. Because I don’t get it.
“Why are You here?” I found myself asking. “Why do You bother picking me up when You know I’m going right back down, probably tomorrow?”
And I heard God’s answer, soft and smiling. “I came, didn’t I?”
Yeah. Yeah, You did.
And I’m glad He comes. And I’m glad He stays. And I’m glad He is not the kind of god who stands on soapboxes and tells me how wrong I am. I’m glad He braves the messes where I would choose to walk away. And I may be right back in the thick of it by tomorrow, but I know I won’t be alone.
And that means something. No, that means everything.