"Within a minute all were on their knees, praying. And it was quiet and still, only the Spirit was moving," says Butler. [PC: David VanDenburgh]

March 28, 2024

The Holy Place

“If you can hear me, clap once.” There was no responding clap heard through the melee that was my current classroom.  

I waved my hands above my head. I rang the bell that signified time’s up. I yelled. I went up to a couple of kids and said I was trying to get everyone’s attention, so I needed them to be quiet while I got the rest settled. They nodded ok but then kept right on talking as I went to another group. I yelled again, louder. Nothing.  

And by this time, you as the reader are wondering how I can call myself a teacher when I can’t control my classroom, a teacher with many years of experience no less. For a moment, I, too, wondered that same thought! It was proving to be “that class.”  

I had taken a year off teaching when my husband retired because, as he said, I was coming home sideways from the challenges of a particularly hard school year.  

During my year off (which ended up including several long-term substitute teacher gigs), I had decided I wouldn’t send out lots of resumes. The Lord knew where I was and where I needed to be. I left it in His hands.  

The following summer on a bright summer July day, I commented to my husband, “I guess the Lord doesn’t want me back in the classroom this fall since I haven’t gotten any calls.”  

Apparently, that was the trigger for the Lord to pull. The very next day I got a call from Linda Fuchs, education director of the Lake Union Conference at that time, asking if I would be willing to cover a maternity leave. “But I do have to tell you that it could be a bit of a challenge,” she added as she ended our conversation. This didn’t deter me as I have been one to relish that kind of challenge.  

I spoke with Nicole Mattson, the local conference superintendent. She echoed Linda’s words, “This class needs an experienced teacher who is comfortable taking on a challenge. This class has been a struggle at times.”  

The principal put it even more bluntly, “You have to understand, this is ‘that class’”—a sentiment that would be voiced several more times by teachers and others associated with the school before I even met the class.  

And this day, maybe three weeks into the school year, I met the full force of that challenge. This was one of the first days I had given them an active group work project that I knew would make some amount of noise, but I thought that as seventh graders they could handle it. Things started out ok for the first five minutes or so but while I was helping a group in the front corner, I could tell that several groups were no longer on task. When I was done with the first group, I stopped by two other groups and redirected them. It worked for a few moments. A kid asked for some odd supplies that were somewhere in my desk. As I was digging through trying to find them, I knew that basically the whole class was no longer on task, the volume was through the roof and kids were all over the place. I stood up and clapped. No response. After trying various methods, I sent up a quick prayer. What was I going to do to get the kids back to some semblance of order, or better yet: self-control?  

At the beginning of the year, I had set up a living room in the back corner where we would always meet for worship, often for reading time, and sometimes for other necessary discussions. With a clean new carpet, several colorful throws and pillows, and an odd collection of chairs, it was an inviting space that allowed for different experiences and thoughts than sitting on a hard desk chair.  

I had staked a claim to one of the chairs, telling the students that they were not allowed to use it except any time they wanted to spend a few moments in personal prayer. It was to be a holy place in the classroom. A couple of students had taken some prayer time at the chair, but it had not had much traffic, except my before and after school moments of seeking His blessing.

Now, in this out-of-control moment, having exhausted my teacher options, I decided to give it to the Spirit. Weaving my way quietly through the melee, I headed to the prayer chair, as we were in the habit of calling it. With my back to the students, I knelt in front of it and bowed with eyes closed, pleading with the Lord to pour His Spirit into my classroom. It felt like the proverbial minute on the wrong side of the bathroom door, but I know it wasn’t more than a minute before I heard Stan’s* voice from the front of the room.  

“Guys, she’s at the prayer chair!”  

Ten seconds later, he was kneeling beside me, his arm resting across my shoulder. A second or two later, Jay slipped down on the other side. Within a minute all were on their knees, praying. And it was quiet and still, only the Spirit was moving.  

We lingered in the living room for a bit, not so I could preach or scold, but that the Spirit would have more time to speak to each heart in that class. And in a Christian classroom, Spirit-controlled is even better than self-controlled.  


*names have been changed  

Sari Butler taught for many years in Michigan academies until her retirement in 2017. In retirement she’s an author and an artist. Her forthcoming book The Haunting of the Holy is expected later in the year.