I had dragged myself out of my bedroom after hours of studying. She noticed the dark circles under my eyes.
I had a final math test the next day, and this subject was never an easy one for me. I didn’t have a sore throat or a fever coming on, so I had to be at my desk with a pencil in hand. I would probably use the eraser more than anything. No matter how hard I tried to find the correct answer, I couldn’t.
She knew of my struggles because my math teacher had told her he felt sorry for me.
“I know she puts in the effort, but for some reason, she has mental blocks that keep her from finding the solution.”
“Have you asked the Holy Spirit to help you solve the problem?”
“No. Why would I do that?” I asked.
She almost dropped her dishrag.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. You don’t know why you would pray and ask for help?”
This came as a shock to her after I had cleared all the Catholic hurdles: baptism, confession, and confirmation. She was so confident that if I had gone through the triathlon of events, I would for sure have ascended to high master status spiritually.
“Didn’t you learn anything in all of your classes?”
How was I supposed to answer that? If I said yes, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. If I said no, then that was stating the obvious.
So I went with,
“I don’t know.”
“Christine. How could you sit through hours and hours of instruction and not know to call on the Holy Spirit if you had trouble with something?”
After years of gym classes, how did she not know how to throw a softball? Or catch one without ducking and running away when I threw it to her? That was the same sort of question.
“I don’t know.”
“They didn’t teach you to ask for help from God?”
They might have, but all I was thinking about was how much I didn’t want to attend the required home group. This meant I was forced to go to a house every Wednesday night and sit through more school work. That is what it felt like as a ninth-grader.
“Did they not tell you that you would receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit when you got confirmed?”
They might have. But, I was not interested, and my mind was wandering the entire time I had to be there.
“What did you think confirmation meant?”
More pain and torture, but away from home.
“I don’t know.”
The typical sigh then followed because she thought I was being difficult. I wasn’t. I just didn’t care.
I had spent all my days with my peer group, which I had no desire to get to know better. I preferred not mingling with them. In fact, one time, when a guy called my parent’s home looking for me, and I answered the phone, and I got rid of him in the kindest way I could think of.
“Is Chris at home?” Recognizing his voice, I said,
“Let me see,” I said, pretending to be my mom. I pulled the phone away from my ear for a couple of seconds. My mom frowned at me as she wiped down the stove.
“No, she isn’t here,” I said. “Can I take a message?”
I pretended to take down his name and phone number.
“I will let her know you called.”
I wanted to be sure who I was dealing with, so I could avoid him more at school if I had to.
My suspicions had been right, so when I hung up, I made a mental note not to engage in conversations with him as much. He was getting the wrong impression. I had this sneaking feeling that this would happen at some point, but I wasn’t sure. So I wasn’t totally devoid of discernment like she was making me out to be.
My goal was to get in and out of school as fast as possible, so the additional class to study religion was not high on my list. And, apparently, I had missed some crucial information on how to pass a math test.
“When you don’t know what to do in life, you are to call on the Holy Spirit and ask for help. An answer will come to you.”
“Yes, Chris, if you had paid attention, you would know this. Go back into your room and ask for help on the test. Then stop studying. All the answers will come to you as you take the exam tomorrow.”
She had graduated valedictorian from high school and college. Also, she scored on the genius level when asked to take a psychology test. Her advice for school was generally good, even if she couldn’t throw or catch a flying object.
The stop studying part of what she said appealed to me the most. If I could have set the book on fire, that would have been even better.
I did what she said, and the next day, the pressure didn’t feel as high in my math class. It seemed like when I went to work my way through a question, I was being guided to apply specific skills. I scored high on it to increase my overall grade for the year.
That had an impact on me. Not hours of church services or endless reciting of incantations from a book. But a practical application of a prayer that resulted in something positive. When something gives us a payoff, you tend to believe it can work again.
I started to use it in emergencies, not realizing it could be used at any time. What fit the profile of an urgent situation? Something that was beyond my ability to solve by myself or anything that kept me awake at night.
I employed this technique the most when I had to work with a woman named Tilly. She had been admitted to the nursing home under my watch as her social worker. She requested only me when problems arose for her.
I learned as much as I could about her. It was determined that she had a borderline personality disorder.
In a nutshell, that meant she would be challenging to deal with, and when someone would try to calm her down, her behavior usually escalated. I attended a seminar on how to interact with the elderly who had been given a diagnosis such as this, and it was not hopeful.
The presenter held up a piece of Swiss cheese and said that healing this would be like trying to fill in the holes. It was a long-standing issue for her as she was moved from one residence to the next without making much progress.
“Chris, Tilly wants to see you,” would be the daily summons I would get. Sometimes it was more than once, and usually, the last one would be right as I was going to walk out the door at night.
“Do we know what the trouble is?” I would ask.
I was barely in my twenties, with no real life experience, yet somehow, I was the one that was sought after as a source of comfort.
“She says her clothes are all missing.”
“Same as yesterday, then,” I would say.
“Yes. She says that someone came into her room and stole her pink robe, her slippers, and all of her candy.”
It was always the same—a crazed sugar eater who liked to run off with loungewear.
“Okay. I will be right up.”
I would take off my coat, put my purse down and grab my notepad to document what would transpire. I had a script I could have printed off.
The minute I stepped into her room, she would say,
“Hey! Someone stole all of my stuff that my daughter gave me yesterday.”
There was no real sense of time, but I ignored that.
“What is missing?” I already knew, but I wanted to see if she changed her story.
“My brand new pink robe and slippers. They are gone, and someone stole them!”
I opened the closet door, pulled out all the worn items long past new she talked about, and put them on her bed.
“I had candy bars on my dresser, and they are all gone!”
“Did you eat them?” I asked.
“No! Why would I do that?” She could get defensive quickly even if I were her source of help.
I would open her dresser’s top drawer, pull out a container, and show her that they were all there.
“Oh. I didn’t see them.”
“I have the clothing you said was missing on your bed. Do you see it? It is here.”
As I put things away, I would ask her questions and talk to her until she was in a better mood.
“Is there anything else that is bothering you?” I would ask as I sat on her bed.
“No. I was just worried about all of that. I thought someone stole it.”
“Anyone can help you find things if you think they are gone,” I would tell her. I was trying to unhook myself from this strange obsession she had with me.
“But, they don’t help me as you do.” So, that sealed my fate. If Tilly had a problem, I was her only help in the building that was filled with multiple staff. I was called a few times over weekends to come in and diffuse her behavior because no one else could. I lived close by, so I did just to help.
“She really likes you. She won’t listen to any of the rest of us,” a nurse had told me.
My secret weapon was the Holy Spirit because every time I had to deal with her, I asked for help, and I was always given a solution in every situation. Where she could get so angry and physically combative with others, she would turn into a compliant, grateful person with me.
That is what God can do in every situation, whether dire or not. It can get turned around when it seems as if there is no real way out of it. In Psalm 91, it says,
He will call on me, and I will answer; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue and honor him. (NLT)
I have found that it works for everything from small to big. And, really, in God’s eyes, all things are equal. So if you find yourself in need of help, it is always available to clear a path, show you the way and fill in all the holes.