When I was radioactive and isolated for a week for thyroid cancer treatment a number of years ago, I couldn’t touch anything I couldn’t wash and would need again in the next three months, so I spent the week reading a 3-foot high stack of my favorite children’s books. Now, if you had been praying for guidance regarding what to read and had a hunch it should be the book on the very bottom, The Secret Garden, and then your sister calls and mentions that book for the first time ever, and then you turn the page of the book you’re currently reading (one of the Littles series) and the characters literally start talking about how much they loved The Secret Garden (all within half an hour), you’d sit up and pay attention, right? Pull that book off the bottom and put it on the top? I believe I heard God’s voice that day, telling me he was there with me through that difficult experience. I believe God can speak in many different ways to different people at different times, so it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise when a student told me the other day that God comforted her by showing her family that her Dad is now a butterfly.
Since my school is increasingly Buddhist and Muslim, I am hearing stories more and more often that reflect a worldview different than my own. Schools aren’t churches, so what does a Christian teacher say in response to a student who tells them about something that they disagree with or don’t understand? While I don’t believe in reincarnation, who is to say that God didn’t use a butterfly in a special way to give her family some comfort? I was glad I had some interruptions to our conversation on the playground (i.e., balls flying over fences that needed retrieving), so I had time to think about how to respond.
This student had been asking me to pray for her very sick dad for the past year, and a card I had sent to her family had seemed to mean a lot to her. She had taken the time and the trouble to write out this butterfly story by hand for me; it filled two pages. Since English is difficult for her, and writing is especially difficult for her, this represented no small effort. This was written as a letter to me, and it made me feel very honored that she felt she could trust me with this very personal story. To let my first, outspoken reaction be one of disbelief would have felt disrespectful to her and her family.
I also had to stop and realize that she wasn’t asking me for my opinion! When we had more time to talk, she asked me if I had read the story yet, and she told me that the butterfly made her happy because she felt her dad was with them. I told her truthfully that I was glad she and her family had been given a sense of peace when they have been so sad. The playground bell rang and there wasn’t time for more conversation, but it felt like that was all she needed–a sense of being heard, and of her story being respected.
Isn’t that what we all want, ultimately? To be heard, and to be respected? None of us has all the answers; each person has certain experiences or come from family backgrounds that make it easier to believe one thing or another. While I am absolutely convinced that Jesus is the Son of God, who died for my sins and who lives today and who sent the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort me, not every situation is the right one for telling that particular story. Think about it: When you feel listened to and respected, doesn’t that makes it easier to ask more questions, tell more stories, consider more opinions?
This story has helped me remember times when others have shared instances of hearing God’s voice, like a friend whose child died and who found a heart-shaped rock in the same spot where her child had liked to play and pick up rocks. It felt like a message of peace to my friend. I’m curious–have you ever had a time when you believe you heard God’s voice, even when other people might think you’re crazy? Trust me–someone who has heard God’s voice from children’s book characters like the Littles, who live under floorboards and who have little tails, will NOT think you’re crazy! Share it in the comments!
I am thegood shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd (John 10:14-16).