My 16-year-old headed for the door with baseball gear slung on one shoulder and backpack over the other. In his wake was a palatable trail of weariness and anxiety. I called to him and he stopped, sporting a resigned expression.
“I just want to say I’ve been praying for you since 4:00 this morning,” I told him. “I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to give you confidence, strength, and a sense of calmness today.” I watched his body relax and his facial features gentle. It was as though he was handing off a heavy load, and grateful to do so.
“Thanks Mom,” was his response. “Thank you so much.” He left with a lighter step.
My son understands the power of the Trinity. He depends on the third person, the Holy Spirit, to guide him, prompt him, and bolster him up throughout his days. I’m grateful for this belief, especially because it took me — and many of my contemporaries — years to fully embrace the power and importance of the Holy Spirit. And until we embraced Him, our joy in our faith was not complete. After all, we were missing out on the fruits of the spirit. Paul explains these fruits quite clearly to us: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).
Despite this clear instruction, the Holy Spirit is, for many, the least tangible part of the Trinity. We can understand God, the omnipresent, omnipotent loving Father, because God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us earthly fathers. We can understand Jesus, just the way it was planned. He walked here, talked here, and wept here. Of course we can relate to Him! But the Holy Spirit? Well, for me at least, He was always the third wheel, and not an equal one. He just seemed like an extra bonus for belief — if you believe in Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit as well! Bingo! I was never quite sure what that really meant.
There are, I believe, two main reasons for my previous misunderstanding of the Trinity. First, when I grew up, the Holy Spirit was always referenced as the Holy Ghost. This created some confusion for children of the seventies who grew up with Casper and only a few years later, Ghost Busters. Combine this with the obvious, often impatiently stated fact we heard over and again from our parents: ghosts aren’t real! The noise you heard was the house settling, not a ghost! There are no ghosts, and you’re too old to believe in them.
Really? Then why, only a few days later, were we singing:
“Praise him all ye heavenly hosts, Alleluia
Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Alleluia.”
I must admit, I did not waste much time noodling through this discrepancy. I had bigger problems that only a fourth grader could understand – should I choose cello or viola as my orchestra instrument? Should I join chorus or bell choir? Was my best friend Mindy or Stephanie?
As the years passed, there were new worries and much to ponder, but the Holy Ghost was not one of those things. I just focused on the Father and Son and called it a day.
Another reason I was so confused about the third person of the Trinity was simple – my church did not talk about Him.
I grew up in a mainline denominational church that gave only lip service to the Holy Ghost. You could find Him in the creeds and the liturgy, but He was not preached from the pulpit or mentioned in conversation. In Sunday school we focused on Jesus and the more interesting Old Testament stories; the same with Vacation Bible School. We made bread from cardboard and fishes from tin foil, we sang “I Cannot Come to the Banquet” with gusto; we recited the Lord’s Prayer and got gold stars. All of these activities were worthy, but none touched on the Trinity.
I was in college when the Holy Ghost evolved into the Holy Spirit, primarily due to our revised prayer book which was, like every revision, viewed with suspicion by many but accepted in the end. It was about then that I started paying a bit more attention to Him. Coincidence? Perhaps, but perhaps not. I could relate to a spirit – it was the essential part of a person, the part inside our beautifully constructed shell of skin and bones. This innate understanding of a person’s spirit was due to my somewhat macabre familiarity with open caskets – several older relatives had passed away but also a college friend – and they were open caskets all. I’m a firm believer in open caskets because I think they help with closure. Yes, the body is there. Yes, the hair and makeup is done and often, at least with older folks, they look better than they have in a long time. But they look wrong. That’s because their spirit, the part of them which is alive, is gone. People seem to innately understand this. At least, it helps me.
So imagine the joy of finally understanding that the spirit within you could be holy! If you believe in Jesus, if you accept who He is and what He’s done for you, you will have His spirit with you at all times! No, we can’t literally walk with Jesus like the disciples did, but that’s okay, because He planned for this reality in the form of the Holy Spirit. What a blessing!
After college my husband and I found an incredible church that focused on all three persons of the Trinity. For the first time, the Holy Spirit was talked about as often as Jesus, an eye-opening change for me. I realized people prayed to the Spirit for guidance and strength, listened to His voice, and treasured the Holy Spirit for the gift it was. This was new to me. I finally understood (I had been told this but never really understood it, and I think that was because I didn’t understand the Trinity), that God was not a Sunday-only God. He was not just found in church; he was with us always – during work, school and play. True belief meant that God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, would never leave us.
Needless to say, the second half of my faith walk has been seasoned by the fruits of the Spirit; it has been much more joyful, powerful, and true than my first half. This is, I know, directly related to my now-proper understanding of the Trinity and its beauty.
My children have grown up with an understanding of the Holy Trinity and therefore enjoy a confident faith, secure in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit will guide them and help them every minute of every day of their lives. It brings me joy to pray to the Spirit on their behalf, asking Him to intercede when they’re tempted, calm them when they’re frightened, and give them the words they need to share their faith. I’m blessed to watch my son’s shoulders relax when I tell him, “I prayed that the Holy Spirit give you confidence today.” He understands the power of the Holy Spirit at 16 in a way I never did.
And that gives me great encouragement as I navigate each day with three teenagers. They are never alone, and they know it. I cannot always be with them, nor should I be, but they do have someone with them at all times, and unlike me, he’ll never steer them wrong.