I met God at Wheaton

I’ve been thinking a lot about college recently. More so than I have in a good while and with a lot more peace than maybe ever.

Ten years ago, I just arrived back home after graduating. My ten year reunion is this September. I had absolutely no thought about going. I met great people to be sure, only my college experience really was entirely not the kind of thing admission offices like to put in brochures and talk about at college fairs.

I met God at Wheaton.

That sounds like a lovely thing, to be sure. The sort of delightful altar call kind of transformation in which I went from chaos to peace, immorality to morality, and darkness into light.

Only that’s not how it worked for me. I met God. Not as a convert but as a maturing Christian who had spent most of my life in churches and most of my life variously calling out to him for rescue from financial crushes, extreme family illness, relational collapses, and other assorted problems not generally in the lists of typical suburban lifestyles.

I wandered out that way so that I could deepen my faith, and… well, I honestly have no idea. It was way out of my budget. I had a very great church and tremendous small group. I had close, long time, friends. I was, I think, pretty happy.

But God, I am utterly confident, said, “Go midwest, young man.” And he put a drive in my heart to be entirely impractical and sacrifice everything I had to seek out some vague reality.

I had read the brochures and talked with the representatives. Getting that acceptance letter was one of the most exiting moments of my life. I was very confident, very hopeful, very ambitious, very driven, very faithful. God, I thought, had great plans for me. God, I thought, wanted me to do something right and good in this world. God, I thought, loved me so much he was opening up a rare and valuable opportunity.

Which is true. My problem was I didn’t, for whatever reason, keep in mind the stories of those God meets.

My junior year, I remember, I came home over Christmas break and had a conversation with my pastor. I told him how I had lost everything, all my heart, my soul, my ambition, my dreams, my friendships, and was on the verge of losing my faith. How could I believe in a God who stole from me the more I prayed, who seemed to key in on my particular needs and make me feel even more desperate and broken? How could I relate to a God who demanded everything, my whole life, from me but offered only silence, and emptiness and darkness in return?

“You must be trapped in sin,” he replied. “Grieving the Spirit somehow and blocking God’s work.”
He didn’t know what it meant to meet God either at that point apparently.

So now I look back at that time and am overjoyed it’s ten years since I was there. I was broken and beaten, in between occasional, and much shorter, periods of absolute epiphany, where God peeked through the ethereal clouds and spoke, and gave me a sense of his presence so strong it was a lighthouse in the midst of the storms. God was real, I knew that from those experiences, but where was he the bulk of the time?

That question drove me, and drove me, pushing me away from going to law school and towards going to seminary because law couldn’t answer the driving and desperate questions that were a maelstrom within. I had met the good and the terror of God, but I had no capacity to process it.

Now, ten years later, I’m finding some sort of understanding, having been faced with ultimate questions and driven to go deeper and deeper, mining the depths, exploring obscure trails left off my tradition’s maps. I sought God and his silence provoked me to go farther and wider, into the thoughts of men and women who sought God in other types of wilderness, and who showed me that what I experienced was not apart from God at all.

Ten years later, as I’m thinking about buying a plane ticket and reserving a motel room, I realize the path that started out that way, a starting which drove me onwards into needing God so much I had to begin to really listen and read, no longer content with what the church so often limits about God. I wrote a book, not a book of despair or confusion or darkness or loneliness. Not a book about those harsh aspects that Joseph encountered in his dungeon or David in his cave or Elijah in the valley of Kerith. A book of hope and renewal, the kind that comes out of experiencing suffering not avoiding it.

So, that work now sparks a curiosity in my soul. It makes at least a little bit of sense why God through me into my altogether baffling four years at Wheaton. And because it makes sense I wonder what it would be like to return, not with any of the prayers I earnestly prayed there answered, not any part of my life now illustrating at all what I knew then I absolutely needed, but instead with a subtle feeling of absolute peace knowing that even in the darkness my perseverence, my holding on, led me in fact to know God even better.

In that, not in the other things, is the way of wholeness and stillness. Maybe, then, I want to go back to my reunion, back for the first time in ten years, to sit on that front lawn again and just say, “Thanks God.”

This was written May 22, 2007. And it turns out that I met Amy in person for the first time at that reunion, though at the time I didn’t know I’d marry her.

A couple years ago, Barclay Press invited me to do a two week daily journal for their website. They’ve since changed their online presence so those writings are gone. I was sorting out different files on my computer this evening and happened to run across them. So, I thought, I might as well repost them here. Both to have a record of them, and maybe more so, because this was written early in 2007. A fair bit of changes have happened in my life since then, so these are records of a time in my life when all I had was faith. I was writing a lot during these journaling times, and it’s curious what came out when I sat down to write. So, mostly for me, but also for anyone whose interested, I’m going to post one of these a day for the next couple of weeks or so.

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