Spiritual Conversations Journal
Submitted to Dr. Michael Lee
in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the course EVAN 526
Gospel: Evangelism and Renewal
at Wheaton College
My first encounter was with one of my students named Ben. He is a thirteen and is in both my homeroom and Language Arts classes each day. He has a vast array of life experiences and talents, a high IQ and a supportive family. He has grown up around mostly adults and can converse on an adult level in most cases.
Even with all these factors in place, Ben is struggling. Self-doubt has become a relentless shadow over his life and he is becoming buried under the weight of a depressive spirit. In late December, he showed some subtle signs of self-harm and the type of talk that surrounds it. As soon as I returned back to school after my absence from being at Wheaton, he let me know that he was now “officially seeing a counselor.” In a growth mindset class discussion about self-concept and self-talk, he had nothing positive to say about himself. That day I told him that he was created with a purpose. That no matter what he thought of himself in this moment, he had value and was important. Through teary eyes, he shook his head in agreement. That conversation ended when it was interrupted by another student.
The next day, I shared some of my photos from Wheaton with my classes so they could see why I had been absent. This sparked an interest in all of my students, especially Ben. He began to ask me questions about why I was “going to school.”
His questions opened the door for me to share about the hope I have found for my life in Jesus and how I wanted to get to know him even better and learn to better serve him and communicate his message. I shared with him that I spent years struggling under the weight of perfectionism. How “well done” was never enough for me, just like it isn’t for him. I related to him how paralyzing the expectations of others can be. He confessed to me in a private conversation just how hard this year had been. He experienced his first year of not having straight A’s and not being one of the top wrestlers on the wrestling team as he has always been. His parents hold expectations of excellence for him and he just does not seem to be measuring up to those at this time. He is definitely feeling the pressure of being a seventh grader.
I assured Ben that living under this type of depression and pressure is not how he was created to live. I explained how we were created to live with perfect love and harmony but chose to go against God’s plan and do things our own way. I compared it to a child who goes against a parent’s advice and ends up in trouble and regret. He replied, “I know how that feels. I’ve been there a time or two. I learned my lesson well. My dad never lets me forget it.”
I told him that just like our parents may punish us with consequences for our bad decisions, they still love us and count us as their own. They would go to any lengths to protect us and guide us along the path of better choices with loving correction. They accept us as we are, mistakes and all. “Ben, this is just like what God does for us. He’s a loving father who just wants his children back in his family where they belong. We cannot find peace from our troubles any other way than through Him",” I explained. “Only when we put our trust completely in him can we get rid of the negative thoughts we have about ourselves and others, find peace and kill depression.”
Before class the next day, he said that he was thinking about our talk and that it was quite an “enigma.” He said, “I love enigmas, but I just can’t figure this one out.”
So later in the day, I handed Ben the book called Who Was Jesus? by Ellen Morgan. It is a biography written for young readers that explains the historical life of Jesus. I keep it as part of my classroom library. I said, “This is the answer to your enigma.”
He is currently reading the book. He has not been back to ask more questions but I can see on his face that he is thinking. My prayer is that a seed was planted that might begin to blossom soon.
With this series of interactions occurring in a public school, I feel like I said all that I could say. Actually, I said far more than what I am allowed to say, but the opportunity was perfect and I felt like God had opened that door for a reason. If I were to have this conversation outside school, I would tell the whole of the gospel and provide examples from the biblical redemption narrative. This is where I was thankful that I kept the book about Jesus in my classroom library. It can fill in some of the needed information about Jesus that I had not provided.
This story is ongoing. I see Ben every day. I’m hoping that our discussion, his reading, and my shining the light of Christ will make an impactful difference in his life now but, most importantly, his life in eternity.
God can open the doors for meaningful conversation in the most unlikely of places. The grocery checkout line, for example. My second encounter came after a long day of work and the errands that followed. I waited in the checkout line at my local Kroger grocery store. I was behind a family: mom, dad, and two small children, who had two carts heaping with groceries. It was one of those situations where every price was scrutinized and every coupon double-checked by the customer. I was frustrated that I had chosen this lane because I always seem to choose the wrong one. It was late. I was tired and still had many things to accomplish before I could call it a day. Although on the outside I was smiling and friendly, inside I was inpatient and judgmental.
This attitude almost blinded me to the door that was opening before me. An opportunity to be a voice of encouragement was almost lost to my selfish attitude. God placed before me family who needed to know about him.
As the mom kept making sure things were ringing up at the correct prices and pointing out any mistakes, she looked at me and said, “This is my last trip to the grocery store until the government opens back up.” I was taken aback by the comment and remained silent as I processed what she had said. What I saw was a family who needed a little hope. A special kind of hope that I knew all about.
So, I replied to her comment by saying, “Oh, is that so? Why is that?”
As she kept one eye on the register she went on to say that her husband works for a government agency and he will not be receiving a paycheck until the government is back up and running. My heart broke for the family. It is hard for me to imagine not being able to provide for my family. Once I became aware of their situation I realized how desperate and hopeless the parents must feel.
As the cashier stepped away to check a price with a manager, I got the opportunity to encourage her that everything would work out. That even though things looked bleak at the moment, God was at work and that he loves her and her family very much.
I told her that I would pray for her family and invited her to bring her family and join me at my church the next Saturday for God’s Table (a church outreach where we provide a hot breakfast and food pantry items to anyone who is in need). I told her the time and where the church is located. The cashier returned, finalized the sale and the woman counted out money from her envelope of cash to pay for her groceries. She thanked me as she left. “I would love to see you again on Saturday",” I said as she pushed her cart away.
I paid for my few items and headed to the parking lot. The family was parked in the same row as me and were loading their items into the back of their van as I got close. I stopped and told them that I would be praying for their family. The mom was open to the idea and the dad began to strap both children into their car seats.
I asked her about her spiritual journey and if she had a relationship with Jesus. “I went to church some as a kid, but never after I was a teenager. I don’t know how to have a relationship with him.”
I asked if she had a Bible and she answered, “No, but my kids were given a Bible at one of the booths at the county fair.” I explained that the Bible is a book about God’s love for us. That long ago we as humans messed up by trying to do things our own way instead of doing things God’s way and the Bible tells all of the ways that God has worked over time trying to fix our relationship and bring us back to himself. I told her that he found the ultimate answer by sending Jesus to live on earth and willingly die for the sin and wrong in the world.
“Jesus was the sacrifice to bring us back to God where we belong and who we were created to live in relationship with. When we have a relationship with him, he doesn’t make life perfect and problem-free, but he gives us new hope and helps us to see our day-to-day struggles in a different light. In a world full of doubt and fear, we can have confidence that he is always with us. We have a great future to look forward to because he has promised to take care of us and never leave us.”
As her husband finished packing up the car, she seemed nervous and stopped our conversation. I reminded her about God’s Table and told her I hoped to see her family there on Saturday. We parted ways and I prayed for her on my drive all the way home.
When I think back about this encounter, I realize that God put me in that particular checkout lane for a reason. I should have told more about how much the love of Jesus has changed my life and how I find hope in him in even the worst of situations. Better yet, an even more effective testimony would have been to be the hands of Christ and purchase the groceries for the family. I did not see her at God’s Table that weekend, but I hope that she comes next month. Until then, I will pray for that little family in hopes that they can find hope in the only place that real hope exists, in Jesus.