As a pastor I sat by many a bedside, listened to many a concern and story, encouraged many others on their spiritual journeys with doubt and faith. Some shared very private, very intimate, very beautiful experiences that filled me with longing. When my sister was dying she told me three angels stayed with her night and day. She spoke of climbing a steep mountain, an angel holding her hand. At times, she’d smile and point to her shoulder, as if I could see them as well. I’ve yearned for a defining, transfiguring spiritual experience like that. Something to erase all my doubts and answer my basic questions about life, God, eternity. It hasn’t happened.

But, I have had a number of close encounters for want of a better term that have certainly been meaningful, if not ethereal or lovely. The closest I’ve ever come to a near death experience was when I was very very sick after a surgery gone wrong. Lying helpless in my hospital bed I begged God for the vision I’d always longed for, something to strengthen my waning faith. A healing vision of Christ. Or at least seeing an angel before I died. Drawing on my last wisp of energy I remember opening my eyes and seeing two of my more eccentric friends standing quietly at the foot of my bed weeping. Even in my weakened state I didn’t know whether to laugh or whisper “thanks.” In retrospect it’s “thanks.” I am profoundly grateful my angels were/are very real people rooted in the here and now instead of something ethereal in the far off future.

Twice, God has spoken directly to me, but it was nothing like, “you are my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased.” Once the message was, “Oh, for goodness sake, get over yourself!” The other time I was angry and literally cussing God out, yelling at the sky, “How many times will you make me die? Why do you keep taking away what fulfills me and makes me happy?” And this voice coming from deep inside of me said very distinctly and very clearly, “every time your desires hurt or injure others, I will make you die.” Ouch!

I rarely seem to get what I want, but I frequently get what I need, whether I like it or not. Like Jacob who wrestled with God (or was it an angel?), I seem to be the kind of person who needs a good hard knock up side my head instead of a vision of a transfigured Jesus, a host of angels, a weeping Madonna. I will say this for my not so spiritual spiritual experiences – they not only got my attention, but they have stayed fresh in my mind, continuing to remind (inspire?) me to get over myself as needed, which is far too often. They also fill me with healthy and divine laughter.

Be careful what you pray for as Grandma Benner used to say. You just might get it.

Step Eleven. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, seeking only for God’s will for our lives and the courage to carry that out.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

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