Column: It’s time to learn some sign language

by Fr. Mark Goldasich

Every now and then, especially when facing an important decision, people will ask me how they can recognize God’s voice in their life. Although God could speak directly to them with a thunderous voice or arrange the clouds in the sky to spell out a clear answer, usually that’s not how God works. His voice is often subtle. So subtle, in fact, that there’s always a danger that we’ll miss it.

There are several different versions of this classic story, but this one starts with a man quietly fishing from his rowboat on a lake. Suddenly, a large yacht rams him, sinking his boat.

As the guy begins to drown, the crew of the yacht tosses him a life preserver, but the man yells back, “I don’t need help, because God will save me!”

A little while later, another boat pulls up beside the man to haul him aboard. But the drowning guy refuses, saying, “I don’t need help, because God will save me.”

Just then, a rescue helicopter from the shore patrol flies overhead and drops down a ladder. The man pushes it away, yelling out, “I don’t need help, because God will save me!”

With that, the poor guy promptly drowns.

Soon after, he meets God in heaven and angrily asks, “Hey, God! Where were you when I needed you the most? Couldn’t you see that I was drowning? I kept believing you would save me, but I’ve ended up here!”

“Don’t blame me for your tragic death,” says God. “After all, I sent you a life preserver, a boat and a helicopter!” (Adapted from “Preaching to the Converted,” by Richard Leonard, SJ.)

When we’re expecting God to answer in some preconceived manner, we run the danger — like the guy that drowned above — of missing the many unexpected ways he’s communicating with us.

Our God is the God of surprises, using a variety of people and means to reach out to us. One of the creative ways, I believe, is through the signs that sit outside of churches. Because I wrote about some of them a while back, one of my parishioners gave me a page-a-day calendar featuring church signs. Since we’re now at the midpoint of the year, maybe these signs might point us to a closer relationship with God for the rest of 2016. I hope that at least they’ll give you some food for thought.

Some signs convey practical advice:

  • A rich person is not one who has the most, but is one who needs the least.
  • Don’t say something permanently hurtful when you’re temporarily upset.
  • One day you’ll be just a memory. Be a good one.
  • Blessed is the person too busy to worry in the daytime and too tired to worry at night.
  • If you’re living like there is no God, you’d better be right!
  • Having part-time religion is like having part-time work: It won’t support you.

And then there are humorous signs like these:

  • Happy hour here! Sundays at 10 a.m.
  • What happens in Vegas is forgiven here.
  • God’s will is perfect. People make misteaks.
  • Save face. Keep the lower half shut.
  • Psalms read here.
  • When you’re green with envy, you’re ripe for trouble.
  • A cold church is like cold butter — it doesn’t spread well.

Finally, some of the signs are like mini-lessons in theology, making you stop and think:

  • Faith is a journey, not a guilt trip.
  • I’m not where I need to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be!
  • If you change “I” to “We” even illness becomes wellness.
  • Don’t put a question mark where God put a period.
  • If you do what you can, God will do what you can’t.
  • When the past calls, let it go to voicemail. It has nothing new to say.
  • God may say “wait,” but he never says “worry.”
  • Love is the absence of judgment.

This calendar has given me a great deal of enjoyment so far. I can hardly wait to see what gems are still waiting in the upcoming months. If you’re still not convinced that God is speaking to us just as powerfully and as often as we read about in the Scriptures, then I’ll just leave you with one last “sign” to ponder:

“Wash your hands and say your prayers. Germs and Jesus are everywhere.”

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