“On Craig’s List,” the caller told the radio DJ. “That’s where I’ve encountered God.”
I perked my ears up. There must be a story here (and I love stories!)
She continued, “We don’t have a lot of money, but there’s stuff that we really need. So we’ve prayed for God to provide for us. Every time we get on Craig’s list, there’s an answer to prayer.”
Sometimes we bump into God in places where we least expect it and in ways that seem strange to others. Personally, I wouldn’t get excited about finding something on Craig’s List; but God spoke in a “language” that this lady understood.
A college friend who had a wild past said that God spoke to him at a Pink Floyd concert. I can’t imagine myself at a Pink Floyd concert; but for someone into that band, this experience translated an otherwise incomprehensible spiritual truth into a dialect he was fluent in. It changed him.
My heart-language doesn’t speak rock-and-roll or internet shopping dialects, but it speaks in stories and words. That’s the language God used with me during one point in college.
Towards the end of my freshman year, I developed bulimia. Within weeks, I had lost fifteen pounds, which was fifteen pounds more than I needed to lose, and lost in a self-destructive fashion. Over the summer, I got counseling, listened to a nutritionist, ate healthier—and promptly fell back into my destructive eating habits when I went back to college my sophomore year. I lost more weight.
People tried to help. Believe me, they did. I recall two friends confronting me on several different occasions. My parents encouraged me to continue counseling, and being the dutiful, people-pleasing daughter that I am, I did. My counselor reasoned with me. But I was beyond reasoning.
On one level, I knew I was caught in a horrible cycle. It was impossible not to realize that eating one (or no) meal a day, purging, and abusing laxatives were unhealthy.
In my heart, though, I didn’t know what was happening.
- Why was my mind consumed with thoughts of food?
- Why was I panicking when I ate an apple?
- Why did I continually resolve to not abuse my body, only to find myself digging the box of laxatives out of the trash can?
I didn’t know. I only knew that I had to punish myself for everything evil inside me, and this was how I would do it. I had to atone for my sins. In my world, grace was for other people, not for me.
I also couldn’t see what friends and family saw: I was thin. Painfully thin.
In early October 1997, a friend invited me to see Les Miserables. I absolutely love stories, love musicals, and love that moment when the lights dim, the curtain raises and the story begins to unfold on stage. From the first note of music, I was enthralled. Jean Valjean’s story captured my imagination: his desire to be more than Prisoner 24601, his love for Cosette, his flight from Inspector Javert’s relentless pursuit.
Javert. Most people dislike him. He’s the villain, after all. But I identify with him.
- He sees injustice and it angers him.
- He sees criminals walking free and wants them to serve their time.
- He looks upon the students’ rebellion, not as a cry for freedom, but as a threat to the established, God-given order of the world. In his view, “those who falter and those who fall must pay the price.”
Then Valjean has the opportunity to kill him. He has Javert’s life in his hands and instead of murdering him, he tells the angry police inspector that there is nothing he blames him for. He lets him go free: no conditions, no bargains, no revenge. Only grace.
An incensed and bewildered Javert walks the streets of Paris and comes to the bridge over the Seine river. There, he ponders what has transpired between him and Prisoner 24601.
What sort of devil is he to have me caught in a trap and choose to let me go free? … Damned if I’ll live in the debt of a thief. I am the Law and the Law is not mocked—I’ll spit his pity right back in his face!
I sat in the crowded theater, watching Javert wrestle with the incomprehensible concept of grace. Goosebumps formed on my skin. “It was his right,” Javert mutters, thinking of how Valjean should have killed him. Forgiveness? The word isn’t in Javert’s vocabulary; he can apply it to neither his enemy nor himself. “Can this man be believed? Shall his sins be forgiven?”
To the Man of Law, the idea of Valjean’s crimes being forgiven is unbelievable. The idea of his own life being pardoned is hellish. It shatters his concept of the world, that the world is based on an order where forgiveness is opposed to justice, that restoration is never possible for the fallen, that righteousness and grace cannot coexist. He sees himself now forced into Valjean’s world, and this is unacceptable:
The stars are black and cold
as I stare into the void
of a world that cannot hold.
I’ll escape now from that world
From the world of Jean Valjean
There is no where I can turn
There is no way to go on . . .
He throws himself into the river and ends his life.
I shivered. I wrapped my arms around myself for warmth. As Javert sang, my fingertips touched my elbows. My bones protruded from beneath my skin, and for the first time, I realized that I was actually thin. Too thin. The knowledge sank into me and I, like Javert, saw the stars become black and cold.
In that moment, the world turned inside out. I was there on that bridge, standing above a rushing river, watching my world turn into a void. I was punishing my body to atone for wrongs that I could never atone for. No matter how long I served my time in my self-imposed prison of starvation, I would always be condemned. I could never purge the evil from within myself.
I needed grace.
What I couldn’t understand from my friends’ words, I understood from the suicidal rantings of an imaginary character in a musical.
That night, God spoke my language.
Q4U: In what ways has God spoken to you in a “language” that you understand?