The Holy Spirit is my Interior Decorator

A friend of mine received a wedding gift from a family member: a green wall hanging* with a note that went something like this:

"As is my daily practice, I talked
with the Holy Spirit about
what gift to buy for you, and
He told me to buy you this
wall hanging. I realize that the
color and style do not really
go with anything on your
registry, but I am sure that if
you pray about it, He will show
you how He wants you to
use it in your new home."

There are so many things wrong with this.

It removes responsibility for decision-making from the gift-giver.
Normally, it would be a faux pas to give a gift that you know full well does not fit with the recipient's taste. But if you attribute the choice to God, you can deflect the inference that you are inflicting your own taste on the recipient while at the same time establishing yourself as an Especially Spiritual Person. Because who wants to argue with God?

It takes the Lord's name in vain.
Blaming God for your tastelessness and tactlessness is surely a greater misuse of God's name than a profane exclamation.

It engages in the impiety of wasting God's time.
Quite frankly, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe has More Important Things To Do than help you pick out wedding presents.

Granted, the Eternal One has all the time in the world and then some. But we don't. So perhaps it would be better to put it like this: it wastes our time with God.

I can imagine the objection: But I have to go about the mundane responsibilities of my life, including shopping for wedding gifts -- I don't have the luxury of spending all my time contemplating the great things of God. And the Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. So why *shouldn't* I talk with God while I'm buying presents?

To which I would respond: By all means, talk with God while shopping for a wedding present! That would be a wonderful time to pray for the couple for whom you are shopping and for their upcoming marriage. But even then, you really don't need to ask God for divine intervention in selecting a present. You have access to a text every bit as authoritative for buying wedding gifts as Scripture is for living a Christian life: IT'S CALLED A REGISTRY. As long as your loved ones haven't registered for immoral items and you don't obtain them in immoral ways (say, by stealing), you really can't go wrong with any of the items on the registry. Just pick something, and save your precious, precious time for talking with God for something that's really worth praying about.

* * *

Since hearing about my friend's wedding present, I have taken to using the phrase The Holy Spirit is my Interior Decorator as a shorthand reductio ad absurdum argument against the sort of spirituality that expects God to routinely speak directly to the believer and interprets hunches, impressions, and/or personal preferences as the voice of God.

Now, though, I am forced to repent of the smugness with which I have insisted that it is ludicrous to cast the Holy Spirit as an interior decorator. While I still maintain that the giver of the green wall hanging was misguided in their insistence that the object in question was God's idea, my friend Carrie tells this lovely story that leads me to strongly suspect that the Holy Spirit does indeed dabble in interior design.

But note these important differences between the case of the green wall hanging and the case of the yellow prayer shawl:

In the one instance, the giver knew full well that the gift they were giving did not correspond to the recipient's taste, and asserted that God was responsible for the discrepancy. It would never have occurred to the recipient to attribute the odd object with which she now had to deal to divine intervention.

In the other instance, the giver had no idea of the color scheme of the recipient -- didn't even know who the ultimate recipient would be when she started the project -- and yet, as she undertook the project with a prayer, not that God would show her the right color to use, but that the result would bring comfort to the recipient, it turned out that the color matched perfectly. The recipient did not need to be told that this was a God Thing; she freely drew that conclusion on her own.

I have no reason (other than the gift-giver's assertion, which I am not inclined to accept at face value) for believing that Holy Spirit desires my friend to be placed in the awkward situation of having to compose a thank you note and determine a disposition for an object that she is in all honesty not particularly thankful for.

I have every reason to believe that the Holy Spirit desires Carrie to be comforted in her loss and reminded that she is deeply loved.

I believe, as Carrie states, that God is in the details and can use the insignificant things of this world to signify his love for his children.

I also believe that it is no sin against the Holy Spirit to re-gift a green wall hanging that does not coordinate with your decor, no matter how strongly the giver believes that it is God's will for you to have it.

*Identifying details have been changed; the object was in fact neither green nor a wall hanging.


The Muser (aka Beautiful Mama) said...

Love this post! And I might steal your phrase about holy spirit as interior decorator. It fits well with all the praise music that seems to assert "Jesus is my boyfriend" and also, "God is my valet" (love it when people attribute their finding of a perfect parking spot to God...and am always baffled that people don't seem to get how theologically problematic it is to assume God is involved in helping them to get the perfect house, perfect parking spot, perfect job, etc., etc., etc., but doesn't seem to mind letting other people die by rape and torture and starvation...). Also, i love your distinction about believing that God does indeed involve her/himself in the everyday details of our lives out of love vs. believing that God is a sort of vending-machine-in-the-sky...

Steve Lansingh said...

We got a four-and-a-half-foot wide floral wreath so large it had full-sized tea cups sewn into it, and smelled like the perfume counter at Macy's. We were moving into a one-bedroom apartment.

I didn't change any of the details because if the gift-giver wants to track this down on the internet 11 years later, more power to them.

Steve Lansingh said...

Incidentally (and I made this a second comment so that the snideness of that one didn't leak into this one), I love the title and point of the article. Anyone who actually has a direct line to God is going to be terrified to pick up the Bat-phone and hear what he really wants of their time and heart and energy, not chat at length about gifts and parking spots and the like. It's almost like they're deliberately not listening to the voice of God by pretending to listen to the voice of God. In my opinion, of course.

(Hmm, that actually turned out rather snide after all.)

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