It had been an extremely difficult hour of discussion about fear, how we each felt about it, experiences we’ve had with fear, how we’ve coped and what God has to say about it. The voluntary participants were female residents of a halfway house/shelter, who were dealing with abuse, drugs, alcohol, homelessness.
I loved the group’s gut-wrenching honesty. They were women with nothing left to hide, so they didn’t hold back.
There were just two little challenges in the form of two strawberry blonde, angelic-looking preschool-aged daughters of one of the group’s participants. There was no other place at the shelter where they were allowed to go unsupervised, so they were here. Together, they registered about 6.8 on the Richter Scale.
We’re not talking high-energy munchkins. We’re talking children who had lived through things most of us will never experience and we were watching the fallout. In the popular vernacular, we might say they had issues.
Frankly, all the adults there–including me–had issues. But, of course, we were not the ones shrieking, biting, wildly lurching from chair to floor to blackboards, flinging toys, and resisting all efforts at positive reinforcement, distraction, bribes and timeouts.
Their totally overwhelmed mother periodically jumped up to yell and perform various other unsuccessful interventions–some appropriate and some…not so much. In the midst of it all (with me sending up several silent “Help!” prayers), we tried to continue our discussion.
We talked about Elijah in I Kings 18-19 and how he was at the top of his game, coming off a major success–with God’s help–only to find himself running for his life, with a contract on his head. He was full of fear.
We read about how tired and depressed and spent he was and how God ministered to him–first with food and shelter and rest, then later speaking to him–not in some powerful dramatic encounter like a wind or earthquake or fire. Instead, God showed up quietly in a gentle whisper. In all the chaos and confusion and distractions, God still found Elijah and spoke just the words he needed.
I was sure that little of this great story had sunk in. Not in all the chaos.
As our discussion began to wrap up, the older child tugged on my arm to remind me I had promised she could have five minutes at the very end to “read” my Bible and summarize the story for all of us (which she wanted to do the whole hour, along with ripping out pages and coloring in my Bible, too). I was surprised she remembered. It was just one of many “bribes” we tried which seemed to have no effect.
She quickly jumped onto the sofa and snuggled in beside me, grabbed my Bible, opened it and began to tell her version in a confident, dramatic voice.
“A whole bunch of bad men were chasing this other guy who didn’t have a gun but he had a piece of God in his heart.” (pronounced “howt”). She then turned to me and said in a whisper, “Does God have enough pieces for everybody?”
Before I could answer, she jumped back into her story. “SO…God called the cops and told them to go get the bad guys. But they had already killed the good person, who was Jesus, and stuck him in a grave.” (There was a little theological confusion here. Just roll with it, for now.)
The little girl continued, “But God said, ‘Oh no you don’t, Buster!’ And he yanked Jesus up out of that hole and said, ‘Get out of here, Jesus, and go home where you belong! Then he told everybody if they had one of those pieces of God, they could go home with him, too!”
Then she slammed the Bible shut, crossed her hands, let out a deep sigh, and said very matter-of factly, “So… we all went home with Jesus and had cereal. THE END.”
While I sat speechless, she jumped off the sofa and flew again into action mode.
I guess Jesus stopped by after all. He wasn’t in the earthquake or the whirlwind. He spoke quietly through the storytelling of a doe-eyed little girl trying to make sense of her troubled life. It all came down to someday being able to eat cereal with Jesus.