Bob Goff is the author of Love Does, a New York Times best-seller, and he’s the only A-list author I know of who has dared to put his cell phone number in the back of his book so readers could call him (there’s more on that below). Bob, an attorney, also founded the nonprofit human rights organization Restore International, which advocates for people in need and provides educational opportunities that would not otherwise be available.
Despite Bob’s extremely busy schedule as a husband, father, writer, speaker, civil rights advocate, and law school professor, he somehow managed to squeeze in some time for a very meaningful conversation with us. And he started with some great advice for people who are frustrated with being single.
1. Most of our readers are single, and many of them want to be married. What advice do you have for someone who is frustrated, lonely, and wondering if they’re never going to have a spouse or children?
There’s nothing that can cut us more to the core like feeling lonely. And there’s nothing that can ring more hollow when we’re lonely than getting simple answers to complex questions about our loneliness. Even worse, is when we get advice that rhymes. And if you get any advice that rhymes — run! God doesn’t make rhymes out of our pain and loneliness; He makes sense out of it. But I’ve noted that He usually does it over time, not in the moment.
I don’t have opinions on a lot of topics, but I do have a couple observations about the relationships we enter into. One is that God isn’t stingy with love. I think He protects us like a good Father; He doesn’t hold out on us like He’s trying to save His love up to spend it on someone else. It can feel like that, though, if you are in the middle of singleness and really desire to be in a relationship.
What I’ve been telling my kids is to be really picky about who you bring into your inner circle. I’ve told my sons that if they find the right girl, they’ve just figured out 85 percent of their entire lives. And if they pick the wrong one, they’ve figured out 95 percent of the rest of their lives! It would be exactly the same for women and the guys they pick. We’ve all seen couples who are so wrapped around the axle trying to understand each other they don’t end up with a lot of energy to go love the rest of the world.
I’d be equally picky about the labels we give ourselves, too. Single, married, lawyer, banker, gardener … none of these represent who we are. It’s just what we’re temporarily doing. Reject the labels, and you have a better shot at doing the one thing heaven’s leaning over the rails hoping you’ll do — are you ready for it? Heaven’s hoping you’ll simply go be you.
Single you, married you, bear-wrestling you. My best guess is that heaven’s only hope is you’ll see yourself for who you’re becoming. I frankly hope I’m a lot of different versions of me. If it’s true that we’re new creations, then we’ll keep changing. The guy I was five years ago isn’t the guy I am now, and I sure hope the guy I am now isn’t the guy I’ll be in another five years. Sure, there will be some resemblances, but what we’re hoping to resemble more is Jesus, what Scripture calls being “the aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15).
God doesn’t compare what He creates, and we shouldn’t either. Just go be you. If you’ve got someone you’ve committed to do life with, terrific. If you don’t, terrific. Go be you. Being the aroma of Christ is kind of like having that new car smell. We won’t get it by hanging an air freshener or a boyfriend or girlfriend or wife or husband or job in our lives. We’ll get it because we’re actually turning into the next humbler version of us.
2. Bob, you’ve got a lot of influence with a lot of people. How do you avoid the self-consciousness that often comes with having fans and followers regularly affirm you?
I’m not sure how much influence I have. None of us really do. I do know these two things: First, only God gives influence. I’m also sure that God doesn’t give us influence so we can lead people better; He gives it so we can love people more. My hope is that I’m loving people well because our love is really the only thing that will last. A few of our ideas might work here and there, but these days I’m not focusing on things that will merely work. I’m shooting for what will last. There’s a big difference. I’ve had 100 great ideas which have worked. I’ve had 20 lousy ideas that have worked, too. So I don’t trust what just works anymore. The dashboard of metrics I follow is much simpler: Is this thing we’re doing going to last? Love has shelf life. It always has, and it always will.
The other thing I’ve done as more people have heard of me is to decide to be more available with the passing of time, not less available. It’s what Jesus did. He got more available the less time He had. We each set our own boundaries. Here’s where I’ve set mine: Everybody; always. There are almost a million people with my cell phone number from the last page of the Love Does book. There are also 900 witch doctors in Uganda who have it. I just don’t let people go to voice mail anymore. Living a life of constant interruptions is what Jesus did, and if you and I do the same, it won’t make us Jesus, it’ll just make us like Him. That’s what we’re all shooting for.
3. The day after Robin Williams’ death, you tweeted, “Sometimes God’s quiet because He’s sad, too.” Can you flesh that out a little more?
Robin Williams’ death was a sad day for earth. Everyone’s passing is. Robin represented so many things to so many people. He helped them access parts of their pain they’d felt for the first time in Robin’s brilliant acting. Following Robin’s death, there were many well-meaning attempts to connect the dots to explain the tragedy in his life and death. Sometimes there’s a beauty in simple explanations, but there’s also a real possibility of completely missing it, too. I think many people were looking for explanations which could help them connect the beauty of Robin’s life and the tragedy of his death. I think God doesn’t just summarize us, He celebrates us.
One of the things I’ve tried to resist doing is making short elevator speeches out of much more nuanced things in life. I don’t hear from God directly, in the way some people describe hearing from God — almost like they were getting a phone call from Him. In those times I don’t hear God’s voice, which is most of the time, I try to think of how He might feel about the tragedies in our lives. More often than not, I envision God sitting in silence. I think He gets sad, too. I think He turns the ambiguity in our lives into stillness before He turns it into an explanation. When I can be quiet, too, I feel like I’m participating with God in His sorrow.
I don’t think God gets mad at us when we come up with small explanations for the losses in our lives which actually have very little to do with what eternity had in mind. But I don’t know that it gives Him comfort when we reduce people’s pain into a couple sound bites. Perhaps that explains some of the silence. It’s a time of intimacy in the quiet rather than filling the questions we have with the noise of answers we’ve just made up.
4. Who is an unsung hero from your childhood who deserves some credit for nudging you in the right direction?
That’s easy. My grandparents. They were my best friends by a long shot from elementary school right through college when they passed. They had the only house painted pink I’ve ever seen. Honest. You couldn’t drive down the block without smiling. It was who they were. They leaked love and joy by the bucket. It was like they were made of the stuff.
Grandpa was a fireman who never put out a fire. Can you believe that? He worked the graveyard shift down at the docks in San Francisco, and I suppose, because there was all of that water there, nothing actually caught on fire. He helped me understand that we don’t define who we are by status, titles and careers. These are all fine, but in the end, I think God will make confetti out of a lot of the things we’ve accomplished to celebrate the people we’ve loved.
Grandma Mary was equally influential to me. She was endlessly creative and always had a twinkle in her eye and mischief up her right sleeve. She was curious about everything and never had met a stranger. She was a switchboard operator who never learned how to drive, so she’d peddle around the block on her three-wheeled bike. Every year on her birthday, hundreds of homes for an entire square mile would put banners on their garage doors saying “Happy Birthday, Mary.” She was one of most famous unknown people I’ve ever met.
5. What do you say when someone who isn’t a Christian tells you they don’t understand how you can believe in a God who would send entire swaths of the world population to hell just because they don’t believe in Jesus?
I don’t really get those kinds of questions very often. I suppose it’s because the folks who are talking to me are usually on an adventure with me instead of in a conversation. The conversations change when you’re on an adventure. The questions we’re talking about are equally deep, but just in different ways.
I have a place in a remote area in Canada. It’s 150 miles from the nearest grocery store. I invite people up to come for a visit, sometimes hundreds of them at a time. When I invited them, they always ask me who else is coming — but I won’t tell them. I laugh a little thinking about Jesus inviting Thomas to follow Him. I can imagine Thomas saying, “Well, I don’t know … who else is coming?” Jesus didn’t tell him, and I won’t tell my friends who’s coming either. The reason I won’t tell people who’s coming is that I’m not inviting these friends on a business trip; I’m inviting them on an adventure. I think God’s inviting all of us on an adventure. too. There are quite a few people who want to know who’s going to be in heaven when they get there. Kind of like the way it works at my lodge in Canada, nobody really gets to know who will be there until they arrive.
Some people seem to draw circles and talk about who’s out of the circle and who’s in. I think God has drawn a circle around everybody in the hopes they’ll want to spend eternity with Him. I’ve invited a couple people up to my lodge, and they’ve said “no.” They had questions they thought they needed answered first; they’ve had important things they felt like they needed to do instead of coming. I didn’t draw them out of the circle; they either didn’t want to come or felt like they couldn’t.
I know the analogy has a couple holes in it, but I see some similarities, too. What I understand Jesus talked about in Scripture is that everyone is invited. We decide whether we want to come or not. God doesn’t argue with us about it, and I don’t argue with the people I invited either. I know and I think God knows that if the person who got invited really had any idea what was waiting at the other end, they’d make whatever changes they needed to make to be part of it, but He doesn’t argue us into wanting to be with Him, much like I don’t try to talk people into being with me. That’s what makes the invitation so special.
God doesn’t compete for our attention; He pursues us in love.
Thanks, Bob, for making yourself available to us and our readers. We greatly appreciate it. And to anyone interested in keeping up with Bob, you can follow him on Twitter @BobGoff or check out his website at BobGoff.com.