When you want your 19-year-old son to take a trip with you, you have to be willing to think like a 19-year-old when it comes to travel plans. That's how I ended up spending a week with him in a remote tree house in Nicaragua. In order to get from the tree house to the dining room, you had to walk down a steep mountain path and then across a long wooden suspension bridge that creaked and swung with the wind revealing the gaping crevasse underneath.
I do not like heights, so I was eager to limit my encounters with this suspension bridge to the times when I was most hungry. But one night when I was alone in the tree house, after the sun had set, the lights all went out. I was terrified. But then I sat up and they came back on. The same thing happened again. They went out, and then when I sat up, they came back on. Suddenly it occurred to me. These lights were on a motion detector. But given that this might keep happening all night, I decided it was time to brave the suspension bridge.
Following the lights along the ground, I made my way to the bridge and stepped out on the wooden slats, barely able to see where to place my feet. And then it happened. All the power went out and there was no light anywhere.
Well, fortunately, I knew exactly what to do to get those motion detectors' attention. Swinging in the middle of the bridge, reluctantly, I let go of the rope railing just long enough to wave my arms over my head. But nothing happened. I waved them more frantically this time and still, I was in total darkness.
I waited for the lights to come back on and finally realized I was stuck. I could stay here terrified, swinging in the darkness or I could put one foot in front of the other. Given that it was dinnertime, I let my stomach do the walking and slowly shuffled my shaking legs to the other side of the bridge, when, of course, all the lights came back on
I later found out that there were no motion sensors on any of the lights. In the jungle, the power just goes out all the time, and sometimes, it comes back on. Out there on that bridge, waving my hands like a magician, I thought I had the power to turn the lights on. When, in fact, the source of the power was somewhere else entirely and nothing to do with me.
I think a lot of people in the American religious landscape get confused about this sort of thing. From the prosperity gospel that tells you that wealth is yours to create to new age promises that you can create your own perfect health, the implication is that we human beings are the power source. We must look like morons to God, the real power source, grandiosely waving our arms on a dark bridge trying to turn the power on.
But it's not that there is no power in us. When I look back on that night, while the power source was elsewhere, I still had some power of my own. While my arms didn't turn the power on, I could power my feet forward that night instead of staying in the dark, shaking in the wind.
It's a fine line between meeting God's power source with your own, and mistaking yourself for the whole power plant.