Joel* is a member of my Sunday school class. He’s been coming to my church since pretty much forever. A little younger than me, he’s in the awkward stage of the teenage years, tall but not yet grown into his height, with glasses and shaggy dark hair. He’s a very quiet guy with a bit of a stutter– I’ve heard him speak only a few times.
That’s why it was a bit startling — read: shocking — when he spoke up with a prayer request three weeks ago in Sunday school. I cannot remember his exact words, so I won’t try to quote him. But his message I’ll never forget.
He spoke up and confessed that he was being bullied at his high school. I guess it had been going on for awhile. He said that kids would call him names and throw things at him. One even told him to go kill himself. Joel related this so matter-of-factly he might have been talking about his latest history project.
The whole classroom was pretty silent at this point. But there was more. Joel wasn’t asking us to pray that he would have strength to stand up under the barrage, or even that the kids would just get bored and quit. Maybe he’d tried that already. No, he was asking us to pray for his bullies, because — and this I do remember — “they were walking in the dark.”
Silent Joel was more of a Christian than any of us in that room.
When he got done speaking, one of our leaders prayed for him (once we got over our stunned silence, that is). And we all left to go to service. But I couldn’t quit thinking about Joel. I found out where he went to school and started praying for him that week — though I confess I may have prayed more for him than his bullies. His request just floored me — I prayed to know how I could have that kind of faith.
I was excited to see Joel the next week. I am not an outgoing person, and I am not apt to speak to someone I’ve never spoken to before (kinda makes me wonder how I have friends. . .). I had wanted to speak to Joel the very first week, to encourage him (which is one of my spiritual gifts), but I was too shy. I thought I might have the courage this week.
I went into class ready for some encouragement. And boy, I got it — although the class started out pretty somber. This was the weekend after the shooting in Connecticut. How could we not talk about it? Our leader introduced the subject wanting to focus on how people see God in a crisis. Some turn to God, and some turn away. She stated that some wonder how God is good if bad happens in the world. And then she opened up the floor for discussion.
I tell you, my class really came through with speaking up. My Sunday school class is made of a students from about seven or eight different schools, which makes it hard to identify with each other sometimes — we tend to separate into school cliques. But that day, with the tragedy hanging over us as well as Joel’s request from last week, I think we needed to get some things off our chests.
One girl, Kayla*, had come with her boyfriend, a regular member. She said a few things about the faithfulness of God, and then Joel spoke up again. He revealed that a girl had come up to him on Monday and told him she had heard about the bullying, and had just given him a few words of encouragement. That girl was Kayla. Joel was so thankful for her friendship and support. “I can really see God working here,” he said. “It’s just so beautiful.”
Them another guy spoke up, saying that he thought God sometimes has to slap us upside the head to get us to pay attention to Him. On the way to church, he confessed, he had been having some doubts about whether God actually worked in our lives. But listening to Joel’s testimony had hit him really hard. “Yeah, God definitely just slapped me,” he laughed.
A few others shared about seeing God in a tragedy, and unfortunately it was time to let out for church. We prayed, and the prayer ended, and nobody moved. No one wanted to leave — I know I didn’t. God was in that room with us, working in us, building us up for the week to come.
After we finally left I did get the courage to speak to Joel. I told him how encouraging he was and that he was an amazing person. Saying that encouraged me probably more than it did him. When we finished talking — and the conversation was short, us both being introverts — I felt a real sense of connection. Our whole class connected through God, I believe, and that is the most powerful connection there is.
I guess the whole point of this is that God does move in us today. He moves in us, right now, as youth trying to make our way. God is not dead, he is not silent, He is alive! I hope that sharing this will encourage those trying to see Him and trying to understand where He is. I mean, this is real life. God is here, and He does beautiful things.
Merry Christmas. :)