The first time as an adult that I felt like God actually loved me, I was eating tacos.
I wasn’t in a church, wasn’t fasting or praying. I wasn’t by the ocean, I wasn’t on a mission trip, I wasn’t pouring my heart out over bread and wine with a friend. I wasn’t listening to music, and I wasn’t expecting anything.
I was alone. In a taco shop.
This isn’t a love letter to guacamole and margaritas, although I could write that one, too. I want to talk about finding God in unexpected places.
When I think about my spiritual transformation in the past few years, I can only think of one or two times I’ve met God in church or a “traditional” Christian environment. Some of the people who have taught me the most about living in the fullness of freedom in Christ aren’t even Christians. And I think that fact says something, not only about God, but about the way many of us were raised to encounter Jesus.
I don’t remember being told this specifically, but I somehow absorbed the idea that there was a hard line between “spiritual” and “unspiritual” people, places, and things.
God was in church and at church camp every summer.
He was “in the heart” of every Christian, he was with missionaries in Africa, he was in the Bible, and he was with me when I was being obedient and diligent and good. I had God neatly segregated and constantly felt guilty for not spending more time being “spiritual” while fearing the influence of everyone I deemed “unspiritual.”
I don’t think I’m alone in this functional belief, either. It’s easy for all of us to get wrapped up in the actions of faith to the point we are merely acting rather than engaging with God. When we think God is primarily found in spiritual striving, we can’t hear the whispers of love and truth saturating this Kingdom He’s building.
The day I met God in that taco shop, I wasn’t doing anything special.
I had started being all-out honest with God a few weeks before, but hadn’t heard anything back yet. If I prayed at all that day, I’m sure it was nothing more than my raw and oft repeated request of that season: “God, I don’t even know if I believe, but please show up for me.” I sat at my usual table by the open garage door, stumped on the clue for 21 Across, and placidly watched the hipster bike commuters. I wasn’t expecting anything except some happy hour tacos and a decent run at the daily newspaper crossword puzzle.
But then, out of nowhere, God showed up for me.
I was overcome with a train-force presence of love and acceptance. Like most fleeing, powerful things, it is hard to describe, even to myself. But it lasted about three seconds, it nearly knocked me over, and I know it was God answering the honest prayer of a faith being rebuilt.
When I drive past that taco shop now, I always think about that deep knowing I felt on that very regular July day in 2010. I’m not anxious to recreate that moment, because God’s presence is always fresh and real and now, but I am grateful for a monument of sorts, right on my usual commute. If God showed up for me over tacos, he’ll do it again and I can hope rather than fear.
Maybe that’s why God met me in my own neighborhood:
So in my every day, I have a reminder of his love. When I don’t feel like I’m seen or I know God at all, I have a physical place of reference where I experienced it boldly.
I’m not saying you can’t genuinely experience God’s love in liturgy or a spiritual discipline. In fact, my encounters with God in unexpected, ordinary ways drive me to embrace the expanse of Christian practice and tradition all the more fully. Meeting God in unassuming places throws me into enthusiastic prayer, study, and fellowship.
I’m more alert for ordinary, untrained moments of connection and worship springing out of an open relationship with Jesus.
I’ve found God in a funny looking tree, in the slow, exuberant “yes” at the end of a tough yoga class, in simple acts of love and justice by people of all faiths, at recovery group meetings where rough people turn their over their wills, and in the miracle of a well-poached egg.
And I’m grateful.
I don’t think God is interested in us being “spiritual,” just for the sake of spirituality. I think he desires us to be our complete selves with Him. Spiritual transformation comes through continued encounters with an active, loving God, not obedience to a set of rules.
Besides, have you had tacos? They are seriously delicious evidence that God loves us.
Speak up! If you grew up going to church, what messages were you told about where and how to find God? What’s the most unexpected way you’ve encountered Jesus and his love for you? What’s your favorite kind of taco?