Looking for God

On the bookshelf of my daughter Mallory’s bedroom sits a volume called The Princess Bride. It was the basis of a quirky little movie that my family has seen more times than I can count. It comes from the pen of William Goldman, though he pretends he just translated it from a Florinese manuscript by an S. Morgenstern that set records for the most weeks on a Florinese bestseller list. It took a long time to convince my daughter that there was no S. Morgenstern, no Florinese language, and, sadly, no country named Florin.

A friend of mine named Gary Moon writes that his family has seen the movie so often they have memorized large chunks of the dialogue. When he loses a tennis match, he is likely to smile slyly and say under his breath, “But I know a secret you do not know. I am not right-handed.”

Gary is not the only one with a memory. When my children were growing up, they would amuse themselves for hours in the backseat of the car by quoting favorite sections:

— No more rhyming now, I mean it.
— Anybody want a peanut?

I was once at a Christmas concert performed by singer Fernando Ortega. When he started to speak, we were all expecting some traditional holiday greeting; instead his first words were, “My name is Fernando Ortega. You kill-ed my father. Prepare to die!”

And I have been offered substantial amounts of money (Okay, five dollars) to begin a wedding ceremony by impersonating the very impressive Archdeacon of Florin, who stands on the platform of an ornate cathedral, is dressed in imposing robes and vestments, and follows the glorious thunder-blasts of organ music by saying in a voice that sounds almost exactly like Elmer Fudd, “Mah-widge. Mah-widge is what bwings us heah today … that dweam wiffin a dweam. …”

Some of the lines are profoundly existential. In one scene a mysterious man in black is besting a great swordsman in a duel. The swordsman is beside himself with curiosity to know the identity of his brilliant foe:

— Who are you?
— No one of importance. A lover of the blade, like yourself.
— I must know.
— Get used to disappointment.

Sounds like something from the book of Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity. …” Life is “meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Get used to disappointment.

But there is one line that lies at the heart of the book’s story — and at the heart of your story as well. It is spoken when the story begins and when it ends. It is a kind of prayer. In fact, it is the greatest prayer Jesus himself ever prayed. If we were ever able to pray it truly and continually, it is in a real sense the only prayer you and I would ever need. Gary Moon tells it this way: ”

As the movie opens, we see the heroine going about chores on a farm. Her name is Buttercup. (I know, but I still like the movie.) Soon we meet a young man who works on the farm and answers to the name Farm Boy.

“Whenever Buttercup asks Farm Boy to do something for her, he always replies, ?As you wish.’ That’s all he ever says to her.

“As they grow into their hormones, Buttercup seems to be developing a crush on Farm Boy.One day as he is about to leave the room, she asks him to fetch her a pitcher, which is within easy reach for her. Farm Boy walks over, then stares into her eyes, lifts the pitcher, and whispers: ?As you wish.’

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“In that moment, returning his gaze, Buttercup realizes that every time he has said, “As you wish,” he was really saying, ?I love you.'”

For many centuries, those wisest among us about the spiritual life have insisted that this one line is the door that opens the heart to the presence of God. There is no greater expression of love than a freely submitted will. As you wish.

Jean Pierre de Caussade writes, “Every moment, and in respect of everything, we must say like St. Paul, ?Lord, what should I do?’ Let me do everything you wish.”

Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

Brother Lawrence writes, “Let us often remember, dear friend, that our sole occupation in life is to please God.”

“At the heart of communion with God,” writes Gary Moon, “is the whisper, ?As you wish.'”

There are moments when I remember to pray that prayer. They are not usually dramatic. The tax man emails us with the good news that Uncle Sam is sending back some of our money, and it occurs to me that I could be generous with it. I’m sitting in a meeting at work, and the thought strikes my mind that I could be quiet for a few minutes and look for someone else’s idea to cheer on. I’ve been traveling for a week and I’m in a strange airport and I’m feeling lonely, and I get a sudden impulse to open the Bible and ask God to meet with me there. And he does.

There are other times when it doesn’t even enter my mind to say, “As you wish.” I’m not necessarily being defiant, just oblivious. There are times when I’m not sure what God wishes me to do, and I have to just muddle through on my own. And there are times when I simply don’t want to pray it — when I choose to not pray it.

C. S. Lewis wrote that the day is coming when every soul will adopt one of two postures before God: either joyful surrender or defiant separation. One day every being will say either “Thy will be done,” or “My will be done.” And the reality is that — at least to some small degree — our hearts are always assuming one or the other of these postures. From one moment to the next we make choices: What will I do next? How will I treat this person? What will I do with this money? Where will I allow this temptation to lead me?

The heart that learns to say, “As you wish,” from one moment to the next opens itself to the Power of the Universe. It does not matter whether our task is great or small or whether we are famous or obscure. Anne Lamott has a wonderful thought: “The Gulf Stream can pass through a straw; if the straw aligns itself with the Gulf Stream.”

From God Is Closer Than You Think by John Ortberg

Copyright © 2006 John Ortberg, Used with permission. Published by Zondervan.