Saul and I were just a couple of young pups, sitting across from the pastor, jumping through the appropriate hoops so we could get married in this church.

Premarital counseling was going pretty well. We seemed to have all the right answers, until the wide chested middle-aged pastor in cowboy boots asked us our mailing address. “3621 River’s Edge…” I recited.

The pastor turned to Saul. “And what’s your address?”

“Mine’s the same as her’s,” Saul replied.

Uh oh. Wrong answer.

The cowboy boots shifted under the table as the pastor sat up a little taller and took a deep breath. He went on to tell us that the church really doesn’t believe in cohabitation before marriage. He even offered to marry us on the spot at that very moment in a private ceremony so we could be aligned with God’s will.

Wait! What? Is this guy crazy? The invitations had already been sent. How could I possibly get married right now???

Saul took the wheel and explained that while we would love to live separately, he was making $10,000 a year and I was making $18,000 and neither of us could afford rent on our own in downtown Milwaukee.

The pastor let it go, but not before saying these words. “Go home and listen for the Holy Spirit. Let Him guide you in this decision.”

That was 16 years ago. Now that I’m in a different place in my life and hear pretty frequently from God, I wonder why I never heard from the Holy Spirit on that issue. And then it occurred to me, I wasn’t listening.

We do that sometimes. We step out of God’s will for our life by justifying our behavior and then we put our fingers in our ears and sing LALALALALALALA as loud as we can so we can’t hear what we don’t want to hear.

Sin is messy, so our lives become messy. It doesn’t even have to be our own sin that complicates our lives. Other people’s sin has a tendency to spill over onto us, turning our living rooms into CSI crime scenes. But if we are in line with God’s will (or even trying to be), He will help us work through the situation and guide our reactions — both within our own hearts and in our dealings with others.

There is a biblical truth that becomes glaringly obvious as I look back on those premarital counseling sessions. It’s the kindness of God that leads man to repentance. (Romans 2:4)

That pastor could have thrown his hands in the air at our cocky ignorance. He could have sent us straight out of the church and left us scrambling to find another place that would play by our rules. But he didn’t. He spoke truth into our lives and then let us just sit with it.

In time, I came to regret living with Saul before marriage. I have a daughter and I want her to stand within God’s guardrails because I know they’re not meant to harm her or tamper her fun. They are meant to protect her and give her the best that God can offer.

My life still includes plenty of sin, both my own and others. But the difference between 24 year old me and 41 year old me is that the blinders are off. I can feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit because I ask for it. I ask to be prompted to be kind. I ask to be convicted when I’m out of line. I ask to be guided and guarded.

That feeling deep inside of you that we sometimes call a conscience? It’s the Holy Spirit. The more you follow that voice, even when it doesn’t make sense, the more powerful its leading will become. And the more joyful you will be in life.

You don’t need to be scared about what it will tell you and where it will take you. God’s a nice guy. He’s gentle when it comes to chipping away the ugly parts of our lives. He loves you and I promise, He won’t give you more than you can handle.

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)