The first time I heard the idiom “God moves mountains, bring a shovel” I was very confused. What in heck does this mean? If God can perform miracles, what does mortal labor have to do with it? It took many years of sobriety for me to really experience how this can manifest.
When I was a kid, I used to go to church with my mom. I don’t remember exactly what they told me, but I basically formed a picture of an enormous, ephemeral Zeus-like man who lived in the clouds and wielded all power via lightning bolts (I think there may have actually been a picture like this somewhere in the Sunday school room). They told me to pray if I wanted to reach Him, so I would go to my room at home when I was feeling unhappy and plead to this imaginary overseer. I guessed that if I were worthy enough or wanted something enough He would grant my wishes. I don’t remember exactly what I begged for, but I cried to Him on several occasions to bring me relief from feeling so misunderstood and lonely. It seemed like nothing ever happened after these episodes, so I became convinced that God was either not pleased with me or that He didn’t really exist. I gave up on church as soon as my mom let me quit going, since I didn’t feel like I fit in socially and wasn’t getting anything out of it. Discovering the effects of alcohol and drugs became the antidote to my emotional misery and offered a way to connect with other people who didn’t adhere to the rules. At the ripe old age of fifteen I decided the atheist point of view made the most sense.
I was granted one of those coveted white light experiences before I even knew I was an alcoholic, in my early twenties. I had come into Al Anon, desperately trying to get my suicidal boyfriend into treatment when it happened. Driving to work one morning after a sleepless night, I had a vision where I could see the presence of God residing over the course of my life. I can’t really describe it properly, but I understood that somehow not getting what I wanted so many times (in relationships, especially) was actually a demonstration of God directing my life. The winding path had brought me to the point where I was now – willing to get help and receive it.
I needed that revelation in order to get sober. I had spent so much of my life trying to make fun of the people who seemed to have it together, from the dimply starched perfect children at Bible camp to the fresh, rosy-cheeked cheerleaders and jocks in high school. They seemed to be the chosen ones and I was not, so I had to find some way in my mind to cut them down as weak and deluded for following rules and believing in a God that didn’t exist just because that was what they were told. When I came into the rooms, I was too beaten down to protest when they said the Lord’s prayer. I just held the hands next to mine and went along with it. Without a mind-blowing vision to call my own, I would never have been able to connect with these people who had formed a way of life around their belief in a Higher Power.
Once I had my belief, I felt free to explore Who that God was for myself. Those italicized letters meant so much, as we understood Him. I knew that my own prejudice had held me back from seeing the truth of existence, and I was eager to become more intimate with this power so I could apply it to all the areas of my life where I still felt weak and unhappy. I reasoned that since my own self will had stood between me and total prosperity, all I needed to do was to get rid of that defective self. If my life wasn’t a cascade flowers and rainbows, if the waters didn’t always part the first time my toe touched the water, then I was just doing something wrong and somehow getting in the way. I just had to STOP doing whatever it was that I was doing for God to work His magic, right?
Fast forward many years in sobriety, and my life changed in dramatic ways. I moved to the northeast, got married and had twins. My husband was able to support us and daycare made no financial sense. This was a tremendous relief, as I had always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, attributing a lot of my unhappiness as a child to the fact that my mother worked full-time. I was restless though and had a bout of depression when they were around a year old. I needed to get out of the house and use my intellect, so I went back to school two nights a week, which did the trick. Eventually, I would need to work again and wanted to be a technical writer. Thanks to my extracurricular partying activities I had never achieved even an AS. There didn’t seem to be a way I could have that career without making the degree happen.
When we first moved to Florida the girls were almost three. I had wanted to move to the Sunshine State for a long time, being a huge fan of warmer weather. My husband’s employer was downsizing, so it made sense for him to find a new job, but he had to take a pay cut to get us here. That put a lot of monetary pressure on him, so he was asking me to find a way to make some income. Once we got settled, I tried to find another school that would work and nothing seemed to fit. I looked at my babies and it broke my heart to think of leaving them with strangers so that I could sit behind a meaningless desk again. I couldn’t see a way no matter how hard I looked, but I prayed, fervently breaking down in tears one day in the minivan. I felt hopeless and couldn’t see a solution in any direction.
The next day, I took the twins up to the pool at our apartment complex and started talking with a friendly woman with two little boys who lived next door. She invited me over after swimming and we were chatting when her husband came home. I told him how I had been trying to find a school that would help me finish my IT business degree so that I could get a job as a technical writer. He was a developer at a small software company and asked for a sample of my work. I had an old manual I had worked on at a previous job, but it was nothing special and I didn’t think anything of it. A couple of days later the nice woman knocked on my door and handed me a slip of paper with a name and a phone number on it. “My husband got you the job,” she said. I hadn’t even known there was a job.
I was able to find a teenager to play with my girls so I could work out of the apartment writing the help manual this startup needed. It was part time and paid well but didn’t interfere with my ability to mother the way I needed to; in fact, I felt energized and eager to be back with my babies as soon as I would finish my work. This turned into an on-going gig, and I could make my own hours. My husband felt relief that the entire financial burden didn’t rest on him alone, I got much needed brain-food and my kids got the best of my attention.
Could I have orchestrated this? Obviously not, but I did have to exert myself. Had I just sat in my apartment and cried or continued to push to find that perfect schooling alternative, I would not have the career or balanced family life my heart so desired. I had to totally give up but do everything in my power to make my life better. When I’m feeling discontent and I have an idea how I can fix it, I need to take whatever steps are available to make the needed change. But I have to be open to ALL ways that the problem can be resolved. Sometimes I have a course of action so fixed in my head that I convince myself it’s the only answer and the only way I will be happy. That’s when I get stuck. Emmet Fox calls this “outlining for God”. We ask for God to answer our prayers but tell Him exactly how He’s supposed to make it happen. Or we sit back and wait for Merlin to instantly poof our desires into existence. Nothing has never materialized that way for me.
I think God heard all those prayers I belted out in my room so long ago. He knew that what that little girl needed was not a pony or someone to rescue her, but for her to be able to see that she already had everything she needed. She was strong, capable and deserving, and that it was all going to work out in the end. So, whether it’s a shovel, a paddle or trudging steps, I just need to keep moving forward the best I can and trust that He has a wonderful plot twist in store if I’m willing to make an effort.