Monday, February 8, 2010

Fishing for Answers (by Billy Coffey)

Image courtesy of

Next time I won’t order the fish. That’s what I thought after he left. If I would have ordered chicken or steak or shrimp I would have gotten my food earlier, which meant I would have prayed earlier, which meant he wouldn’t have seen me. But he did, and like they say, that is that.

Lunch time for me is a sort of take-it-when-you-can thing that depends on how busy I am and how far I want to drive. Most of the time that places me inside a small restaurant downtown, just a few blocks from my work. Nice place with nice food. Very friendly, very tasty, and very quick.

So. The fish.

An extra ten minutes, the waitress said. “You sure you don’t mind waiting?”


The man came in five minutes later and was shown to the table across from mine. We smiled and nodded like friendly folk do, and I was fairly certain that would be the extent of our interaction. It wasn’t. Because soon afterward my fish arrived and I offered a very silent and inconspicuous prayer.

He was staring at me when I opened my eyes.

“So you’re a churchgoer?” he asked.

“Yep,” I answered. “You?”

“Never,” he said in a tone that seemed rather proud.

I nodded and went back to eating.

“Don’t believe in God myself,” he said. “Just seems like a waste. I guess that means I’m going to hell, huh?”

I’d been around long enough to know when I was being baited into a conversation I really didn’t want to get into. This, I thought, was one of those conversations.

So I just said “Not my call” and raised another bite of fish.

“Not your call,” he repeated. “That’s typical.”

I chewed and thought about the last little bit of what he said. It was more bait, of course. And it was still a conversation I didn’t want to have. But maybe it was now one I should.

“Typical?” I asked.

“Yeah, typical. You people like to use those pat little answers for questions you just don’t know or are just too afraid to face.”

“Like whether you’re going to hell?” I asked.

“Sure. That just bugs me. Christians say that God is love, but if you don’t go along with the program then you get eternally punished. That doesn’t sound like love to me, that just sounds hypocritical.”

I shrugged. “Not really. I reckon God’s spent—what, fifty years or so?—trying to get you to pay attention to Him. He’s arranged circumstances, given you a glimpse of things you don’t normally see or think about, even spoke to you. There’s no telling how many chances you’ve gotten to say ‘Hello’ to God after He’d said the same to you. But you have a choice. That’s how He made you. You can choose to listen or not, choose to believe or not, choose to accept or not. I take it that so far, it’s been not. So if you spend your whole life telling God to stay as far away from you as possible, He's gentleman enough to do just that when it’s all over. So yes, I suppose if you keeled over right here right now, you’d go to hell. But it’s not me who’s gonna send you there, and it’s not God either. It’s you.”

He looked at me. I looked back.

“Alright then,” he said.

We both continued our meals. Ten minutes later he squared his tab with the waitress and left, pausing at the door to offer me a smile and a tip of his hat.

The waitress focused on me then, asking if I’d like more coffee or just the check. I asked for a check and an answer.

“That fella come in here a lot?”

“Sure,” she said. “He’s the preacher at the church next door.”

“He’s the what?” I asked her.

“The preacher.” Then she smiled and added, “Was he havin’ a little fun with you?”

“Don’t know if I’d call it fun.”

“He likes that,” she said. “Likes finding people who call themselves Christians and tests them. Sees if they know their faith or just accept it. These days we have to be ready to defend it, don’t we?”

“We do,” I said.

And that’s the truth. It isn’t enough to just accept our faith nowadays. We have to stand for it. And this is the truth, too—next time I go there to eat, I’m ordering the fish. Maybe he’ll stop by.


To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at at his website and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.


Anonymous said...

Man... I didn't see that one coming! Great post, Billy. Glad you decided on the fish.

Candy said...

Ah, the fish. Way to verb that food, Billy.

"So if you spend your whole life telling God to stay as far away from you as possible, He's gentleman enough to do just that when it’s all over."

He is such a gentleman.

Shark Bait said...

You. Ate. The. Fish.

You ATE the fish!

You ate the FISH!!

Dude. That's not even funny!!!

Nice post BTW, but next time eat the shrimp. Seriously - no one likes them anyway.

katdish said...

Sharkbait - Snort!

Anonymous said...

Glad you took the bait after all. ;)

Annie K said... the shrimp. snort!

Great post Billy.

Michelle DeRusha said...

I'm glad you got the testing preacher and not me. I have to say, this post has given me a lot of think how well I'd be able to stand up to the testing questions. My guess -- not well at all. A: I don't like confrontation. And B. as a relatively new believer, I am still uncomfortable in my Christian skin. Something I need to think about for sure.

lynnmosher said...

Thanks, Kat, for being so generous to share Billy with us all.

Billy-boy, I had a sneaky suspicion that might be the ending. Thanks so much for telling us your encounter with the "opposition." What a great challenge for us all. I'm with Graceful. I hate confrontation, so I deeply appreciate your post, as it has given me some great bait to chew on. Oooo...I smell another "fishy" article coming on...

Katie said...

That is so awesome. I recall going to Jamaica and seeing a youth group on a mission trip. It was fairly obvious considering they were all wearing matching shirts with a Bible verse and church logo. I asked the group closest to me a few conversational questions. Then I asked what was the Bible verse. They didn't know. We had a little lesson right then and there, we looked it up. I encouraged them to memorize it before they got there 'cause when a non believer asks and you have the opportunity to share it and thus share Jesus, "I don't know" ain't gonna cut it. I remember that as a conviction to me to not be caught in a "I don't know" moment. I liked your answer Billy. I gotta remember that one.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

You could have answered, "Yep, you're going to hell," when he asked, if you really wanted to clip the conversation.

Good thing you didn't, though.

Erin said...

What a story! And your answer to his questions made me happy.

S. Etole said...

you never know when you will end up a fisher of men ... intentionally or otherwise

jasonS said...

You brought a smile to my face. This is great and a wonderful reminder wrapped in a thoroughly entertaining package. Great post- thanks.

Bonnie Gray said...

Love your answer.

So, was this faction, Billy? ...

:) Ask Katdish... she just introduced your book Snow Day on her comment today at Faith Barista.

Anonymous said...

I found your response to him the best anybody could have given. I loved it. Made me pause and think about how many times I might not have said hello back to God.

I won't be able to order the fish in a restaurant without thinking of this story.


Jennifer @ said...


Have I told you lately that YOU ROCK????

That rocked.

Dianna Woolley said...

Great post Billy. W/o the magic ending I would have said that the guy was "itching to talk about God" - and you were the one that kept him talking even with your short answers. Not dodges, but answers. I've found that the people who say they don't want to talk about God or don't believe in god are often those most aching to know more of him and of us strange folks who put so much trust and faith in Him. We don't know the answers but we do have the faith to believe that the love is there for us and that the love for those of us who are searching is available through US to them. Again, great post, thanks.

Kelly Sauer said...

I love it. I missed this yesterday, and just found a minute to read it this afternoon. I love it. Billy, you tell it like it is, and you tell it well.

Can I be you when I grow up?

Doug Spurling said...

Looks like you're ready for more than just fishin' - your answer shows you're ready for catchin' - and that's the truth - I tip my hat to you too.

Heather Sunseri said...

That's an awesome story, Billy! I love it!

Missy said...

What a great story and a great post. I love how you answered his question. You did it honestly and tactfully.
This is something I often worry about; being able to defend or stand up for my beliefs. I am a new believer and I often cannot come up with answers on the spur of the moment like that, but I know the reasons down in my heart.
It is a sad world where we do have to be ready to defend our faith when it used to be those that were unbelievers who had to defend themselves.