Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"God Wanted Us to Buy the Farm"

Yesterday, the kids and I were taking a tour of an orange orchard/wildlife rehabilitation center that is well worth the time if you’re ever in Bradenton, Florida. Our tram driver/tour guide was telling us how the orange orchard has been in her husband’s family for 70 years. (By the way, this woman has known her husband since she was five-years-old, which should tell you right there that these people don’t do things short term.) When her in-laws were looking to retire, our guide explained over the tram’s intercom as we bounced between the orange trees, she and her husband were trying to decide if they should purchase the orchard from the family.

She said, “So my husband and I prayed on it. And we decided that God wanted us to buy the farm.”

God wanted them to buy the farm? I wondered. Huh.

I’ve heard people say stuff like that on TV, but I’m not sure I’ve ever come face-to-face with someone who used those terms. Living in Massachusetts, one of the brightest blue state of the union, I’m sheltered from these people who are likewise sheltered from the anti-organized religion likes of me. But am I?

First, the brass tacks of her whole decision-making process (if you could call it that) set me to pondering. I understand what it probably looks like to “pray on something.” I’ve done versions of that myself, although I would describe it as “thinking it over,” “putting it out there,” or even “releasing it to the cosmos.” You know, hippy talk. The orange farmer’s wife might call it heathen talk. A linguistic difference to me might be the difference between an afterlife among the angels and eternal damnation to her. Sort of a “You say tomato, I say hellfire and brimstone” sort of thing.

So like I said, I can picture what she would look like praying on it. But what does it look like to know that “God wanted us to buy the farm”? Did she hear the voice of God? If so, did it sound like the white, old man of her church? Or did it sound the way I would imagine, like Maya Angelou reciting her poetry?

Or maybe she got a text message from God: “U shld by frm.”

Perhaps she stood up from praying by her bedside (yes, I’m stereotyping prayer,) dusted off her knees, and just “knew” that she and her husband should buy the farm. If that was the case, I deeply wonder how she knew the difference between God telling her and just deciding for herself. Perhaps she would say there is no difference. Maybe when the orange farmer’s wife is certain of something, she is Certain. “God’s will be done,” and all that.

Following that chain of logic, I’d put money on the fact that the orange farmer’s wife has made some bad decisions in her life. Mistakes come with the whole human experience, it seems, and I’m sure the God-believing orange farmer’s wife is not immune to missteps. But let’s say she was certain of something – nay, Certain of something – and it turned out to be the worse decision in retrospect. Let’s say she decided/Got told her to buy the farm. Then her family got really upset at the changes that she and her husband made. Familial ruptures ensued. Then the economy tanked. The weather freaked out, alternating between hard frosts, droughts, and hurricanes. (“God’s will be done”?) So a year after they bought the orchard, the orange farmer and his wife were bankrupt, homeless, and without family. (“God forbid.”) How would she explain that unfortunate turn of events? Did God want her life to be full of misery, hunger and loneliness where there had once been abundant riches? (“God works in mysterious ways.”) Had she misunderstood God’s intention in the first place? Had she not prayed on it the right way? Yikes.

And, finally, does “putting it in God’s hands” allow the orange farmer’s wife to avoid taking responsibility for her decisions? What a relief that would be! Personally, I hate making decisions. It would be luxurious to remove myself from that whole process and put it on God’s shoulders instead.

“Sorry, honey,” I could tell my husband. “God doesn’t want me to make dinner tonight. He told me that I should go out with friends instead. But the kids are hungry and cranky, so good luck with that. Toodle-oo.”

Some would call that a cop-out.

In the end, though, I can see that the difference between “God told us to buy the farm” and my personal decision-making process is just a matter of semantics. (I suspect the orange farmer’s wife would disagree strongly, but maybe she is broader minded than I imagine.) When I am trying to make decisions, I “listen to my inner voice,” “feel pulled in that direction,” and “see doors opening down that pathway.” Is there a difference between following one’s true path and following God’s Path, aside from the amount of footprints in the sand?

In the spirit (Spirit?) of full disclosure, I should tell you that it has been two years since the orange farmer and his wife “followed God’s word” to buy the farm. From my casual observer’s standpoint, the farm seems to be positively thriving. The store was packed with eager shoppers. The tram was full of tour-takers. The farm had become a place for regular and exciting community events. It’s a place of learning where you can’t help but to come away feeling educated and enthusiastic about rehabilitated wildlife and citrus. And, I gotta say, there was a very special feeling in the air when we were at the orange orchard.

Halleluiah, amen, and pass the O.J.