I have always dreamed of traveling to Rome.
So when our plane landed in Pisa, Italy in June my internal GPS was set to get me to Rome as quickly as possible, even though our itinerary said that Rome was still five days away.
First, we spent a couple of days in Florence, where I saw with my very own eyes, Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia Gallery. I couldn’t believe I was actually standing in the same room with this seventeen foot sculptured masterpiece. We visited the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, the Tuscan hills, and the vineyards of Umbria. Finally we reached Rome, and toured the Colesseum, as well as many other amazing and ancient historical sites.
But I had been dreaming about one particular place in Rome for a very long time – the Sistine Chapel. I anticipated slowly walking into the quiet of that beautiful space, where papal conclaves have been taking place since 1492. Once inside I would look up in awe at the ceiling to see the majesty of Michelangelo’s fresco of The Creation of Adam, painted over 500 years ago. I imagined in that moment, as I first saw the actual painting of God’s finger reaching out to touch Adam’s finger, I would feel a new and powerful spark of God’s presence in me, just like Adam. I even imagined myself lying on the floor on my back, relaxed, just gazing up at the ceiling for as long as I wanted. This would be a breathe-taking moment between God and me.
I had very high expectations that my once-in-a-lifetime experience in that room would be…perfect!
In case you didn’t know, five million tourists visit the Sistine Chapel each year. It averages about 25,000 visitors each day.
And I think all 25,000 of us were packed into the Sistine Chapel together for fifteen minutes the day I was there.
Without realizing it, I had anticipated that just me and God would be there together and we would relax, take in the creative majesty together and stay as long as we wanted. I had in mind that all the elements would come together perfectly, just for God and me in that moment.
That didn’t happen. There was a schedule. There was a crowd. I felt distracted and rushed.
That moment didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. It was still good. Just not what I anticipated.
Sometimes we get caught up in a disappointing experience and just stop trying. Something doesn’t turn out as magnificent as we imagined and we become turned off completely. A conversation with a co-worker isn’t productive. A night out with our significant other feels like we’re going through the motions instead of exciting and romantic. A project that looked fabulously successful in our heads turns out mediocre. And our memory of disappointment begins to color everything.
This can even be true of our expectations of God.
Thankfully, my disappointing experience didn’t diminish the majesty of God – or even the majesty of the Sistine Chapel.
And I don’t want to allow it to keep me from anticipating great moments with God in my future.
I will forever remember, a couple of days before returning home from Italy, walking into St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. I did not anticipate this moment at all. I hardly noticed this place in our travel plans. But inside, it was dark, quiet, beautiful, ancient and holy. Glimmering gold and bronze mosaic tiles came together to reveal the face of Jesus in the center of a beautifully gilded dome.
And as I looked up to into the beauty of Jesus’ face, I felt his presence there.
God surprised me with that new and powerful spark of his presence I had been hoping for. This was not the place I had dreamed about. But it was in this unexpected, unanticipated place that I felt God’s presence and mystery in a new and powerful way.
I didn’t even know I would be here. But God waited for me
And isn’t that our journey? We hope. We plan. We anticipate. We don’t always know where or with whom we will experience this deep sense of God’s presence. We can only trust, deeply trust, that God is there waiting for us.
The prophet Isaiah said it this way; “But the LORD still waits for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for him to help them.” Isaiah 30:18