The power of a nudge

By Dan Williams, vice president for church relations

Once he met Jesus, the first thing Philip did was find his friend Nathanael and excitedly inform him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and about whom the prophets also wrote — Jesus of Nazareth.”

Upon learning of the hometown of Jesus, Nathanael dismissively replied, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Philip could have taken offense at this response; could have argued with Nathanael; could have attempted to pressure or coerce his friend. He didn’t do any of those things. Instead, Philip simply replied, “Come and see.”

Philip gives Nathanael a nudge. Reading this story from John 1:43-46 we know what Nathanael could not possibly have comprehended at the time — as a result of this brief encounter his whole life was about to change forever. Crucial turning points in our life do not always appear at the time in the form of dramatic encounters.

Sometimes they come about as gentle nudges.

For example, if I trace backward the trajectory of my own life to 1972, one of the most crucial turning points turns out to have been a load of laundry — that I didn’t do.

It was a September Saturday morning. I was a freshman at Freed-Hardeman College and was walking across campus on my way to the laundromat when I ran into a friend. Denise looked at the basket of clothes under my arm and said, “Dan, aren’t you going to tryouts this morning?”

I replied, “What tryouts?” 

“For the Pied Pipers,” she said.

 “What are Pied Pipers?”

“A children’s theatre group,” Denise explained.

 “No, that’s not my thing,” I laughingly said.

“Oh, but you’d be so good at it,” she insisted. 

“I don’t think so,” I said as I started to leave.

Denise pleaded, “If you go, I’ll do your laundry.”

 “Where did you say these tryouts are?” I responded.

 To make a very long story short, I was chosen for the troupe and made friends with Glen Henton, the upperclassman Bible major who served as leader. He recommended me for a summer ministry internship with a church in Virginia where he had previously worked. There I met a pretty woman named Gina, and this year we will celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary.

 I cannot imagine how my life would have turned out differently if my friend Denise hadn’t nudged me to try out that long-ago Saturday morning. I am just thankful she did.

 One Wednesday night a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to talk to a church youth group about Harding. Two of the teens present that night went on to enroll here, including one young lady I’ll call Sara who came from a difficult family situation and had not known of Harding before coming to school here. Last spring I happened to run into Sara as she was walking through the student center with an armload of textbooks. “How is your semester going?” I asked. “I’m taking 17 hours so I’m really busy,” she answered. Then Sara broke into a broad smile and said, “But, oh, Mr. Dan, I have loved every minute of my time here at Harding!” With that she walked on down the hall, still beaming.

 I’d like to feel I had a small part in nudging Sara in the right direction, and perhaps someday she will look back on that Wednesday night presentation as a crucial turning point in her life. I know this: Sara’s story could be multiplied by the thousands. Every year I am gratified to see young people from around the nation and the world arrive on our campus because I know here they will have a life-changing experience. Harding is a place where faith is strengthened, minds are challenged and character is molded. This is a place where lifelong friendships are formed, and where, for some students, romantic relationships are initiated that eventually lead to the formation of strong Christian homes.

Since that is the case, I have just one question: Is there some young person you care about who could use a nudge?

Categories: End Note.

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