December 26, 2007

Making Things Right, Now

2007 1536 page28 capARLIER THIS YEAR I WAS BUSY WORKING with my fellow student government officers to set up the gym for our weekly Saturday night campus event. Unfolding and arranging hundreds of chairs can get tedious, so my friend Mike and I began to converse about the latest campuswide happenings.
Mike was in charge of organized spiritual events, so naturally our conversation centered on topics in that area. Both of us had a similar sense: Union College was more spiritually alive than either of us could remember. Mike commented that he thought it was time to challenge the campus and bring spiritual programming to a new level. That struck a chord with me.
It was one of those moments when words just kept coming, and before long I’d hatched a full-scale plan. Recently, I’d witnessed a scene in a film in which a janitor from a church walked up to the front of a staff worship, grabbed a towel and bowl, and proceeded to wash the feet of the youth pastor. Weeping, he apologized in front of the whole group for some harsh words he had recently spewed in the pastor’s direction. It was a stirring visual reminder of how to live the golden rule. I needed to be reminded of that. Suddenly I thought, So does this campus.
I shared my enthusiasm with Mike: “Imagine if we created an opportunity outside of a typical Communion setting for students to wash the feet of someone they had wronged or had some tension with. No one would be forced, but the chance would be there.”
Mike loved the idea, so we ran with it. I wasn’t on his staff, but he invited me to be part of the planning sessions. Before long, the night had arrived.
No, Not Her
2007 1536 page28We wanted to create an atmosphere that was private, where people didn’t feel inclined to participate because everyone else was doing it. This was accomplished by putting the necessary foot-washing materials in side rooms off the main sanctuary. At the end of the vespers program the pastor introduced the concept and implored the students to humble themselves and find someone to serve with whom they needed to make things right.
As it was my idea, I felt it was important that I participate. In the few weeks leading up to the program I racked my brain for those to whom I needed to extend an olive branch. But I continued to draw blanks.
Now, as I was sitting there in the dimly lit sanctuary, I was just as clueless. I mentally scanned the mug shots in the student directory. Suddenly, a face popped up. No, not her. She won’t want to see me. Besides, I don’t have any idea where she is. I frantically tried to push her image out of my mind, but her face was branded on my brain.
All right, Lord, if You want me to do this You’re going to have to . . . Before I even finished my stipulations, I saw her. She was sitting one pew behind me with all of her friends. I didn’t hesitate. You win, Lord.
It had been more than a year since we’d talked. I’m not even totally sure why we had a falling out, but the details of he said/she said were moot now—I needed to clear this up. I stood up and turned around. “Hey,” I said as I ignored the glares from her friends and stammered: “I was wondering if I could talk with you for a moment.”
She didn’t move for a moment, but then, without saying anything she stood up and walked out of the sanctuary with me. After a few moments of intense silence, she spoke up: “Jimmy, whatever happened with us?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I just want to make things right now.”
“Me too,” she said with a big smile. “I saw you sitting there, but I was too scared to approach you. So I’m glad you took the initiative.”
That night there was forgiveness and a clean start for both of us. We reexchanged phone numbers and decided we’d have to catch up sometime.
We never actually got around to doing anything. But now when we see each other on campus we exchange smiles and pleasantries instead of glares and gossip.
Spiritual Guide
That entire experience was satisfying—and also very humbling. I’d stumbled on this amazing idea that I have no doubt came from the influence of the Holy Spirit. I thought my school needed it. As it turned out—I needed it.
The doctrine of the Holy Spirit, one of the major tenets of Christianity, appears as fundamental belief number five, in the Adventist list of 28 cardinal doctrines (see Seventh-day Adventists Believe). As I read through our fifth fundamental belief, I was captivated by one line in the middle of the paragraph: “He [the Holy Spirit] draws and convicts human beings. . . .” To me this is the core of our belief in the Holy Spirit and the very essence of how He operates.
Because God created us with free will, the choice starts with us. We must allow ourselves to be drawn to Him, and put ourselves in a position where He can work on our will. These decisions may seem meaningless at the time, and that’s exactly what the devil wants us to think.
Maybe it means opening our Bible when we really feel like just going to bed; or getting up for church even though it’s been a long week. No one is forcing us to do anything. But if we take that first step, amazing things happen.
As we make decisions pointing toward Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s voice becomes much more discernible and we are drawn (sometimes unknowingly) to a place of resolute conviction. On my own I would never have realized that I needed to make things right with my classmate. The Holy Spirit used my idea to put me in a position in which I recognized what I needed to do.
Often, the right decisions in life are not as black and white as we wish they were. It’s not as easy as listening to the cute angel on one shoulder and ignoring the snarling fellow wielding a pitchfork on the other. The enemy we face is disguised; but he knows exactly how to use little turns to bring us down a path of destruction.
Fortunately, when Jesus left this earth He gave us a Counselor to help guide us through darkness, past the pitfalls of life. The Holy Spirit needs only the smallest crack of light to lead us along the path of righteousness.
In the end, the choice is ours: when we allow ourselves to be drawn to Him He convicts us about how to handle the rest. Even when our bright ideas don’t turn out quite as we thought.
Jimmy Phillips is a senior communications major at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. This past summer he worked as an intern for Adventist Review/Adventist World.