God Never Stops Tugging At Our Sleeves
Published: August 5, 2010
I recently read a story by a man who grew up Catholic. At some point, though, as he put it, his faith just evaporated. He is now part of the huge crowd of people who no longer believe in God. As for death, they see it as the bitter end.
I thought about that man quite a bit. His story revealed vivid memories of childhood when he embraced Catholicism with open arms. He recalled the pungent scent of incense at Mass, the sound of the bells ringing at the consecration, the beauty of the Gregorian chants and his mother’s deep, undying faith.
I would say that God is tugging at this atheist’s sleeve, gently reminding him through these vivid memories of a Catholic boyhood that God is still there for him. God has a way of sending us these messages, but we must be open to receive them.
As a former atheist myself, there is always a nagging question. God saved a “wretch like me”—to quote a line from “Amazing Grace”—but what about all the other folks who also need help? What about this man? Won’t God help him as well?
I think God tugs at our sleeves quite often, but we miss him. He sends subtle messages, sometimes through other people, sometimes through our own thoughts and inspirations.
In my own past as a nonbeliever, I recall waking up one morning and suddenly, out of the blue, feeling a strong desire to write a feature story about cloistered nuns. Another day, I was inspired to write about different religions’ definitions of sin. It took me a while to realize that with God there are no coincidences: He was calling me back to him.
Eventually God’s tugs on my sleeve became impossible to ignore. But God never dragged me back to church, kicking and screaming, because he respects free will. He could have created human beings so we would never stray and would always love him. But in that scenario we’d be robots. Instead, God created us with free will, so we can freely choose to love him—or not. This means we can either ignore the tugs—or heed them.
God is gentle, despite unfortunate images of him as a big angry man in the sky. He is a loving father, despite depictions of him as bloodthirsty and vengeful.
In Luke’s gospel, the story of the prodigal son shows the really tender heart of God. The son leaves the father and goes on his merry way, wasting all his money on worldly pleasures. Then one day he wakes up, hungry and alone. Repentant, he returns to his father.
And the surprise twist is this: The father isn’t angry with the son for his extravagant ways. He doesn’t berate him or lecture him. Instead, the father prepares a huge feast and rejoices because “my son … was lost, and is found.”
For many of us, there comes a moment when something wrenches us away from our Father in heaven. Maybe something very painful happens, and we get angry with God. Or one day we decide that we’ve outgrown our faith.
But God waits patiently, continuing to love, and continuing to send out little signals. We just have to keep our hearts attuned to hear him. One thing is certain: Our heavenly Father never gives up on us. He never stops tugging at our sleeves.
Lorraine’s latest books are “The Abbess of Andalusia,” a biography of Flannery O’Connor, and “Death in the Choir,” a mystery set in Decatur. Artwork by Jef Murray. The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More in Decatur. Readers may e-mail them at email@example.com.