Have you ever noticed that children’s books often run in threes? Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Three Billy Goats Gruff–in our library at school, we even have a Japanese threesome: Three Samurai Cats! Tolkien’s publisher chopped his epic Lord of the Rings into three parts, and there’s the popular Ascendance Trilogy (Jennifer Nielsen) in fiction for older kids. My own Sophie Topfeather series is a trilogy. Writer’s guides tell me to make the main character try to solve a problem three times before finally succeeding. I grew up listening to three-part sermons. There seems to be something intrinsically satisfying about the number three.
When I lived in Japan, my Japanese was pretty shaky, so when I asked someone for directions, I always immediately asked a second person. If they seemed to agree, I sometimes went with that, but I almost always looked for a third person to ask, just to be sure I had understood correctly. Years later, when I was praying about changing jobs, I almost immediately had three phone calls and/or emails telling me in one way, shape, or form that my ministry in a Christian education position was helpful to them. Three more calls or notes that followed the same day sealed the deal for me–I wasn’t ready to leave yet. A year or so later, when I prayed the same prayer, the phone and computer were silent. It was time to switch my ministry focus!
While that is one very specific example, it seems like that’s happened many times, usually when I had a clear choice to make, where something was confirmed three times in short order, making me feel confident about going (or not going) a certain direction. Has that ever happened to you? Once I noticed that happening, I actually even wondered, over time, if God somehow favors the number three when it comes to reassuring his people about something. So, it was very interesting to me when I read my Bible study lesson on Revelation this week. Dr. Rob Wall (Seattle Pacific University) writes, when talking about messages brought by a “triad of angels” in Rev. 14:6-20, that “three symbolizes a real deal” and the three messages are “signs of good news” (Seattle Pacific University, Lectio, Revelation Week 8).
Come to think of it, I heard an owl hooting outside my bathroom window one night years ago, after I had been praying about whether or not my book about a great horned owl was ready to submit to a publisher. Could it be a sign? A couple of days later, my twin sister and writing partner called (not knowing I had just heard an owl) to tell me she had just seen an owl on her way home from work! It was a first for both of us. Last week, when I had so many people praying for me to be encouraged while waiting for the publisher’s news on book releases, my husband called me outside late in the evening where he was still working in the yard. “Listen,” he said. Loud and clear, I heard an owl calling several times: “Hoo hoo hu hoo. Hoo hoo hu hoo-ooo.” Two days later, the publisher sent the release date! Three owls, years apart, completing a very long journey.
Hoo hoo hu hoo-ray for God!