In the film Simon Birch, loosely based on John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, there’s a scene that knifed my heart. Simon, born with dwarfism, goes to his local church seeking spiritual guidance. He enters the pastor’s study and struggles into a chair.
Simon: “Does God have a plan for us?”
Pastor: “I like to think so.”
Simon: “Me too. I think God made me the way I am for a reason.”
Pastor: “Well, I’m glad that, um, that your faith, uh, helps you deal with your, um…you know, your condition.”
Simon: “That’s not what I mean. I think God is going to use me to carry out a plan.”
Later, when Simon gets discouraged, he returns to that same pastor.
Simon: “I want to know that there’s a reason for things. I used to be certain, but now I’m not sure. I want you to tell me that God has a plan for me, a plan for all of us. Please.”
Pastor (shifting in his seat, obviously uncomfortable): “Simon…I can’t.”
Sitting in the movie theater, I almost stood to shout my objections. If that pastor had lived nearby, I would have made an appointment the next morning to speak my mind. “Listen, if your doubts have undermined your calling to proclaim Good News, why don’t you take a break or consider a new line of work?”
In my 31 years of ministry, I have struggled with tragedies that rocked the foundation of existence. Stillborn children, a young man killed just days before his wedding, suicides, overdoses, floods and fires, cancer that wrenched parents from their children. I always refrained from unsolicited platitudes like “God has a purpose for this.” Those words are hollow, even insulting, as we cry out against injustice or suffer from breathtaking loss.
However, if someone sincerely asks me that question voiced by Simon, I don’t hesitate to answer.
Yes, I do believe God has a divine purpose, a plan that works its way through our days. And though none of us can fully fathom the mystery of God’s providence, we can experience it numerous ways.
God’s purpose appears as divine appointments. With deep gratitude, I think of meeting my wife, Donna, when we both needed love and companionship. I think of how she and I have helped each other rise above our common disease. I think of counselors and mentors who entered my life exactly when I required their wisdom.
God’s purpose grips us with a love that brings order and healing. God is love, says the famous verse in John’s first letter, and as we move from asking “why?” to “how?” this love becomes an experience of God’s design. It drives us to spend ourselves for justice, to comfort the lonely and outcast, to be a conduit for unity and peace.
God’s purpose compels us to exercise our gifts. We all have something unique to contribute. It is what Simon meant when he said, “I think God made me the way I am for a reason.” Thousands of years ago, David rejoiced with these famous words from Psalm 139: “I praise you, for I am reverently and wonderfully made!”
Friends, on this Thanksgiving 2018, I have a shout out to God. Thank you, Creator, for not only giving us loved ones on this journey, but for also being with us, offering your purpose that illuminates our path. May we experience your active presence—and our unique part in your plan—more clearly every day.
Thanksgiving blessings to all of you!