“Coincidence is God’s Way of Acting Anonymously” — How I learned to Relax in my Faith

One of the things that has brought me the most amount of comfort in my journey to understand my faith is that I don’t really need to understand it at all.

As some one explained to me not all that long ago, theologians and biblical scholars have spent centuries taking an academic approach to God, faith and religion in an attempt to make more sense of it, and they’re still at it. So the chances of someone like me -someone who took six months to learn how their new oven worked- ever figuring this whole thing are miniscule at best, practically non-existent at worst.

If it takes me six months to wrap my brain around a simple kitchen appliance, how am I ever going to wrap it around such a vast, all-consuming and ever-present concept as the greatest power in the universe?

I’m not, nor do I have to, and I can’t begin to tell you what a relief that is.

What I’m dealing with here -indeed, what I’ve been dealing, or attempting to deal with for most of my adult life- is some all-powerful Thing that my tiny little human mind just isn’t built to fully understand.

Something out there

And that’s OK. More than OK. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me since I was first struck with an idea in my late teens that I should make a documentary film about religion in order to get my head around this nagging notion I had that there was Something out there.

Like many of my early attempts at filmmaking, the documentary never came to pass, though it didn’t stop me spending much time from that moment to this trying to piece things together, to add some sort of name, some sort of structure or system or just a general set of principles to what I could only ever describe as a vague, murky belief that there just had to be a God of some description.

I mentioned the last time I wrote on Medium that a turning point for me in this 15+ year journey was when I prayed to God in an empty room above a run-down biker bar.

God never revealed himself to me that day (perhaps he was waiting until I’d finished the glass of whiskey I was devouring), but he did slowly begin to in the years that followed, putting people and things in my path to cement my faith, if not necessarily help me to understand it.

Coincidence is God’s Way of Acting Anonymously

I believe the correct, oft-quoted variation of this is Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymously, a phrase often attributed to Albert Einstein, though to be honest, I’ve no idea if that’s accurate.

When I first heard this phrase however, it was put to me as in the title of this piece. Acting Anonymously. Sadly, I can’t clearly remember who first said this to me, but I do remember when they said it and, more importantly, why.

They said it after I’d finished relaying to them the story I’m about to tell you now.

Coming out of the Wood Work

Four years ago, May 2012. I was coming to the end of a sordid love affair with alcohol which had cost me relationships, houses, jobs, and critically, my sanity.

I’d run away from where I was living in the UK to my adopted second home in Northern Minnesota, firm in the belief that if I could just escape my present circumstances, I’d be free to live without the booze.

Virginia, Minnesota, where “The Coincidence That Wasn’t” happened.

Things didn’t quite work out that way, and eight days after my flight touched down in Duluth, I found myself being dragged home by the police after being found drunk and causing some sort of nuisance. Unknowingly, I’d left both my wallet and my ID in one of the last bars I’d been to. Remember that, because I’ll come back to it.

On May 10th, 2012, I joined a fellowship of people who’d had similar experiences, battled similar demons, and lived to tell the tale with smiles on their faces. I stuck to these people like glue , grateful beyond words that they were there to help me wrestle my way out of The Shakes, slow my brain down and start to get sober, so that when the call came that my wallet and ID had been found in a bar down Main Street, I was confident enough that I could walk in, grab my stuff, and walk out without succumbing to temptation.

And I did too. In, grab stuff, out. It was easy. Until I suddenly found myself half way down the street falling prey to the alluring voice of madness which I’m certain must haunt the mind of every problem drinker from time to time.

It was a voice which sounded scarily like my own, and which said:

Hey, you got your stuff back. Money, ID, and hey look, there’s a bar right there, you could go get drunk now and nobody will ever know.”

Over the past couple of years (1285 days sober and counting), I’ve heard similar voices, but they’ve all been faint, unpersuasive, and fleeting compared to the all-consuming roar of insanity that dominated my thoughts just two weeks off the bad stuff.

There and then, I genuinely did not know whether or not I was going to let the voice drag me into a bar or simply walk home and forget all about it. I did not know what to do, so I decided to just keep walking.

Walk around the block a couple of times, and by the time you’re done, you’ll know whether or not you’re hitting the pillow sober or not later.

So I started walking. A few seconds later, another sober member of my fellowship walked out of the gym. We waved, smiled, and went on our way, him probably thinking nothing more about it, me thinking.

How odd, there I am thinking of drinking, and there’s a reminder that I’m trying to get sober. What a coincidence.

A minute down the street, turn a corner. There’s another friendly, sober face.

Two? Now this is a BIG coincidence.

Moving on, a third.

Man, they’re coming out of the woodwork. OK, this CAN’T be a coincidence. I should just head home.

So I started heading home, though before I could get there, a fourth pulled up in his car and spent time talking to me. I didn’t tell him I’d been thinking of getting good and drunk. By the time he’d rolled down his window to chat, I knew then that this was some sort of sign that I should stay dry for the night.

I heard your story

The following morning, I shared about what had happened to me, and how I was convinced that there was more to it than mere coincidence. This was too important, too bizarre to be just one of those things that happens.

It was then that I was told: Coincidence is God’s way of acting anonymously.

Cool story, right? Sure, but it didn’t quite end there.

Later that day, I was out taking a walk when I heard a woman’s voice calling my name. This time however, it wasn’t the maddening sound of an alcoholic’s inner-demons but a woman who had been there that morning when I’d been telling my story.

She pulled over in her car and I walked over.

I know we haven’t really spoken before,” she began. “But I was thinking of going for a drink, and I was driving round trying to make up my mind about whether I’d do it or not. Then I saw you, and I remembered what you’d shared this morning, and I thought he’s been put there for a reason, so I had to stop and talk to you.

If I had any doubts left about God’s anonymous deeds, this shattered them, and even four years on remains a pivotal moment in my journey.

I’d like to say that we both stayed sober and lived happily ever after. I’d like to, but I can’t. I drank again, and didn’t fully start to get sober until later that year. Last I heard, the girl in the car was still fighting the war. Regardless, I believe it wasn’t coincidence we were put in each other’s path that day, the two of us, and those who had come out of the wood work for me the day earlier- where there so that each of us could protect our sobriety for that day and that day alone.

It was the one event that convinced me that this vague, murky faith I had at the time was in something real, and in something that couldn’t be explained by pure logic or reason or science or any of that stuff, because it simply wasn’t supposed to be.

Since then, I’ve been gradually learning to relax about my faith. To simply know that God -or whatever you choose to call Him- is at work. When I see things happen that others may call coincidence, I’m no longer in the least bit surprised.

Thinking of somebody out of the blue and then they “magically” appear in your life a few days later? Been there, seen it, not surprised. Start focusing my thoughts on something I want to happen, and then having the one “Random” encounter with another human being that starts to make it happen? Yeah, I don’t believe there’s anything random about that.

Over the last few years, I’ve read numerous books, seen a host of documentaries and ploughed through web pages by the truck load about faith and spirituality written from the perspective of different religions (and the non-religious), from the view of self-improvement and “achieving goals” and from just about every possible angle. I’ve noticed that, though many of them call it by different things (visualization, prayer, even the Law of Attraction), this idea of coincidence not being quite what it seems keeps rearing its head.

Ultimately, this only offers me more comfort, safe in the knowledge that my faith -however undefined it might be at times- is in something Real, and that this Something Real is at work in my life. For now at least, this is as much as I need to understand, and for the first time since my late teens, I finally feel like I can relax in my journey to faith.