Everyone seems to know where ‘the best’ restaurant is for Chinese, Indian, Thai, etc. Like everyone else I claim to know where the best Thai food is in town. The restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside, but what it may lack in curb appeal it makes up for in layered flavours of sweet and spicy. It was at this gem of a restaurant Claire and I had an afternoon lunch date, joined by her adorable 1-year-old daughter. Although her daughter avoided the spicy dishes, she did enjoy steamed rice (which was more like sticky rice seeing that it ended up behind her ear and stuck to other parts of her clothing). She was very content eating her rice all the while enjoying the Thai art and surrounding customers while mom and I chatted.
After some time catching up on life I asked Claire if she hears God’s voice. Following a short pause she said, “Yes!” She said that she hears God’s voice audibly. I had to stop myself from showing too much excitement (it’s a quiet and serene environment and I wanted to shout, “REALLY?!!”). I needed to find out what God’s voice sounded like to her. She explained that God speaks to her through people. His voice is the sound of other believers and mentors speaking into her life. “How can you expect to hear the still small voice of God when you’re not listening to the audible voice of God through someone else?” I had to sit back for a moment to fully digest what she said. So it’s possible that God’s voice sounds like the people around me. It makes sense! She continued, “God’s voice is all around us. It can be heard in the voices of others.” She explained that since we are made in the image of God, and each person is wired up differently (some people are intellectual thinkers while others are emotional feelers), and God uses our unique personality to speak to others. “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27 NLT
I asked Claire if she could explain a specific occasion where God spoke to her audibly. This question evoked a slightly longer pause than the first question. I quietly waited, and joined her daughter by having some more steamed rice (except my rice was paired with cashew chicken and Pad Thai). In a serious but very compassionate tone Claire began to tell me of a time when she was in college and was asked to love an individual that was incredibly difficult to love. She heard God’s still small voice say to her, “Please love this girl. Please, please love her!” The first time she heard, “Please love this girl” her response was, “No way! This girl is way too difficult to love.” …but she kept hearing God say to her, “Please, please love this girl!” I thought to myself, isn’t it weird for God to sound as if He is begging? Why would God need to beg? Begging is surely not a sign of a powerful God, although it is a sign of a loving and relational God. God is not so powerful that He doesn’t need us. He lovingly partners with us to show His love to others and to develop selflessness in us. God asks us to see each other (no matter how difficult someone may be to love) through a lens of love. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:11-12 NIV
After numerous times hearing God say to her, “Please, please love this girl” Claire embarks on a very bumpy journey of loving this very troubled teenage girl from her local church…and when I say bumpy I mean rough. So rough that on one occasion punches were thrown. I know! I can’t for the life of me imagine this sensitive, kind, new-mother throwing a punch. I needed to hear this story in full. It all started after a lovely day at the beach – ice cream included. (Who doesn’t love a day that includes ice cream?). While Claire was driving the teenage girl home, she sensed the girl’s mood change from happy to angry (which was quite common for her). Claire turned to her and said, “I know you want to punch me right now. You can but I’ll punch you right back.” How did Claire know that the girl wanted to punch her? Sometimes you can just sense these things! I get it! Without hesitation the girl punched her hard right in the arm, and Claire without flinching punches her back. I know this doesn’t sound like the kind of mentoring strategies you’d hear about through a church-mentoring course, but for them it worked.
Claire spent her college years mentoring the young girl, and suspended judgment that opened the door for a very honest relationship with this girl. She was the only one who knew the girl was self-harming and engaging in unhealthy relationships. Claire also had the difficult job of talking to the girl’s parents about her toxic lifestyle. Throughout Claire’s college life she mentored the girl she wanted nothing to do with, even after hearing God’s voice say “Please love her!” It was an incredibly bumpy road of learning to love someone when it wasn’t easy. Even after graduating college, getting married and moving away, Claire stayed in touch with her. The teenage girl is now a young woman and Claire and her talk regularly over social media. When the girl’s father was very sick and on his death-bed Claire returned to the family’s home. The girl’s father’s last words to Claire were, “Take care of my girls” (meaning his wife and daughter).
It all began with “Please, please, love this girl!” To Claire, God’s voice was a desperate call to love someone very difficult. God’s voice is the still small voice that is heard in her spirit and begs her to love others even when it’s difficult. His voice is also heard audibly through God’s people (God’s image bearers) and especially through her mentors.
I left my lunch date with much more than just a full belly – I also left with the question: If God’s voice told me to love ‘the difficult’ would I, like Claire, make a commitment to a bumpy journey of loving someone? Loving someone difficult isn’t easy but it is what Jesus asks us to do.
Only weeks after the interview I found myself challenged to love when it wasn’t easy, and to understand that in certain circumstances I may be ‘the difficult’ one needing love. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34