erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

On Tuesday mornings, before the sun is up, a few teachers and counselors drag desks into a circle to pray. That time is sacred. Settling into our seats, someone usually makes a comment about Greg’s tie or asks Tammy about her wedding plans. We’re all bleary-eyed and half awake, but God is there, and whether it’s in the verses we read or a prayer, He speaks.

The last morning we were together was right after the fire. We sat in our circle, and Dave looked over at me. “What’s happening in your life right now?” he asked with a confused chuckle. “First, the car accident, and now a fire?” There was a tenderness in his smile. Everyone waited for a response. I thought about that raging, crackling fire and the smashed car. Then I said the first thing that came to mind.

“I think it might be spiritual warfare.” As soon as the words left my lips, I felt embarrassed. It felt silly to suggest demons and devils were somehow involved, but nobody laughed. They were listening, and an idea came to mind.

“Let’s read Ephesians 6,” I suggested, grabbing my Bible.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (vs. 10-12).

When I finished reading, we prayed for our school and the kids. We asked God to help us shine in the midst of the darkness. Then desks were pushed back into rows, and we left. It’s sad, but I forgot about those verses. The day got going, my lesson plans were in front of me, and Ephesians 6 was long gone.

When 2nd period ended, the bell rang and kids started walking out the door, moving like a slow train down the middle aisle of desks. As they were leaving, a kid I’d never seen before burst into the room. He was targeting Reece, one of the coolest young men at school—the kind of guy who makes people show up at Young Life and is always available to listen. That’s why I thought it was a joke. He moved right up into Reece’s face.

“What did you do to her?!” he shouted. His eyes were wild, and his voice was full of anger.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Reece said calmly, shaking his head.

“Don’t you ever go near her. You understand?” It finally dawned on me this wasn’t a joke, and I moved between them.

“You need to leave, now!” I yelled. He shouted a few more warnings at Reece before his friends pulled him out of the classroom. I closed the door with Reece still inside. “What was that?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. He seemed just as surprised as I was.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he said. Reece walked out the door, and I went back to my desk shaking my head, my body still full of adrenaline.

Third period came, and Darnell was late as usual. He laughed with friends and copied my hand gestures while I tried to give instructions. A sly smile spread across his face, and I wondered, was he enjoying being disruptive? As he looked for an audience, anger burned inside me.

Later in class, Jamie and Thomas, both typically great students, had their phones out. “You need to hand them over,” I whispered, but they refused, staring down at their desk. They got angry, I got impatient, and they both ended up with detention.

Darnell slipped out of class before the bell, and when it finally did ring, I was left standing there, feeling like I failed.

At lunch, Alyssa and I went over her paper. She was starting from scratch, so I suggested listing ideas. “See,” I said, “if you make a list, writing this is simple.”

“This isn’t simple,” she shouted. “It’s never simple with you.”

“I’m trying to help,” I said, making every effort to sound calm.

“But you’re just making it hard!” She was shaking with anger.

Where was this coming from? I was shocked but tried a rational approach: “Alyssa, do you know I’m taking my lunch break to help you?” She wouldn’t make eye contact.

Staring into her computer, she finally said, “Never mind. I can do this on my own,” so I went to heat up my spaghetti.

Sitting at lunch, I listened to other English teachers talk, but my mind was somewhere else. What happened? I replayed every tense moment. Like the Captain investigating the ashes of my backyard fire, I wanted answers, but nothing came to mind. I ate my spaghetti, and disappointment and anger ate away at my heart. It wasn’t one of my better mornings.

It was subtle, but sitting there at that table, overwhelmed with the mess of my day, God brought a little reminder. The memory of that early morning circle of desks moved its way into my mind. The words “We battle not against flesh and blood” replaced the picture in my head of Darnell’s mocking smile.

I knew God saw me, and the wonder of that idea washed away the questions and anger. He knew what was coming, so with His perfect timing, He gave me Ephesians 6. He knew I would face battles that day, but these weren’t battles against kids. They were against an enemy who breaks kids and then uses them to steal joy from broken teachers. Like the raging fire in my backyard and our totaled car, he’s bent on destruction, and like the raised voices in my classroom and the fear spreading around the world, more quickly than any virus, he wants to steal our peace. The battle isn’t ultimately about cell phones and disruptive kids, or even about coronavirus; it’s about holding on to joy by trusting a God who’s greater than all that. It’s about fighting an enemy we can’t see by resting in the love of the One who sees us.