I was recently reminded of one of my favorite books, Jonathan Safran Foer’s soon-to-be-required-reading-for-students, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” In it, 10-year old Oskar loses his father in the attack on 9-11, and is struggling to navigate life without his closest friend. Oskar is painfully shy, unusually brilliant and misunderstood by most of the people around him (it’s eluded to that he probably suffers from Asperger Syndrome), and his father was the one person with whom he truly connected.
A few months after his father’s death, Oskar finds a mysterious key hidden in his father’s closet, and begins a long, investigative journey to try and find the owner of the key. It’s a last-ditch effort to remain connected to his father. All the while, Oskar only seems to be growing further apart from his mother. She grows more and more depressed over the death of her husband, and it seems, misses an opportunity to grow closer to her son during this difficult time. She instead leaves him to navigate these treacherous waters on his own.
As I read about Oskar wandering around New York City on the epic self-guided adventure of trying to find the home of his father’s mysterious key, I found myself wondering, “Where is his mother, for Pete’s sake? How can she let him deal with this alone? He needs her!” It’s only at the end of the book (spoiler alert!) that we learn that Oskar’s mother is not only completely aware of his quest, but has been going ahead of Oskar to all the places he visits, making sure people take care of him when he arrives to question them about the key.
When Oskar realizes that his mother cares enough to do such a thing, they are drawn more closely together than either ever thought was possible.
He Goes Before Us
In Deuteronomy, Moses tells Joshua and the Israelites to be strong and courageous, and not to panic, because The Lord will personally go ahead of them into the Promised Land. That’s a wonderful, but difficult promise, because it means, just as Oskar felt he was growing apart from his mother, the Israelites could have felt that they were growing apart from God.
We can’t always see God’s work or understand what He’s doing. Sometimes, it feels as if He’s incredibly close, and sometimes it feels as though we’re navigating these waters alone. I know that has been my experience in student ministry. But as Christians, we’re recipients of the same promise that God made to the Israelites through Moses: He will never leave us or forsake us.
It stands to reason, then, that in times when I feel like He’s out of reach and I’m trying to do this ministry thing all by myself, He’s probably just going out ahead of me, making sure everything’s the way it should be when I get there. And I am so very thankful for the times when, in hindsight, I realize that God was there all along, just a few steps ahead of me. Nothing strengthens my faith in Him more, or draws me closer to Him.
John Benda is the director of Campus Christians at The University of Kansas in Lawrence, where he lives with his wife, Lydia He loves working with students and playing in a rock band with his brother. His parents are moving to Lawrence in a week, which means they will all be incredibly close.