“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
John 3:16. It’s widely regarded as the most recognizable verse in the Bible, yet sometimes-- especially in dark, unpredictable periods in our life-- it can be difficult to remember these words. Although we know God’s love is infinite and always with us, tough times have a way of inducing amnesia.
I recently finished the last finals period of the first year of my PhD at Brown. Amidst the insanity of chronic sleep deprivation, multiple group projects, and lab research that still had to get done, something interesting began to happen. It started when I closed a Zoom session with one of the BRCC missionaries and prepared to move on to my next task for the day. Zoom’s home screen automatically popped up, a digital clock prominently featured to give busy users a quick post-meeting time-check. It was 3:16 pm. My mind immediately leapt to the famous Biblical passage and I closed my eyes in prayer. In that moment, it was exactly the grounding reminder that I needed.
Over the next few days, I accidentally caught every single 3:16 pm. Each time I saw the familiar numbers, I took it as a nudge to take a deep breath, say a prayer, and remind myself of God’s love. Soon, I wasn’t just seeing this reminder in the afternoons. 3:16 began to bombard my life.
-Climbed into bed after the first of a series of particularly late nights. Turned out the light and glanced at the glowing clock. 3:16 am.
-Waited over an hour for my machine learning algorithm to finish running. Checked back at the time left on the loading bar when I was sure it was almost done. 3:16.
-Stopped the microwave early because I didn’t want to overheat the lunch I’d put off eating for four hours. Noticed the remaining time as I pulled my food out. 3:16.
Of course, anyone could chalk such events up to confirmation bias: although I saw countless numbers throughout my day, and although 3:16 appeared as often as any other, I had simply begun to notice it. Yes, that’s possible-- likely, actually. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that each addition to this silly little pattern felt like a message from God. Something He knew I would pick up on. To me, each 3:16 was a God wink. Each was a small reminder that He so loves the world, and He so loves me.
Sometimes, I think it just takes recognizing little things in life to find reason to pray and to keep up hope. Certainly, my finals period trials are laughable in comparison to the hardships suffered by others in the world right now. My mind goes to COVID-19 patients fighting for their lives on ventilators in overcrowded hospitals. To overworked nurses refusing to succumb to exhaustion in the midst of an inhumanly long shift. To people whose lives have been turned upside-down by sudden unemployment. But in all of these situations, no matter how dark, I’m sure there are 3:16s popping up. I’m sure there are little reminders of God’s loving presence everywhere, if only we look for them.
One night, as I was listening to a prayer podcast before heading to bed, I had another 3:16 moment-- sort of. Rather than John 3:16, the verse for that evening was John 16:33:
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
Indeed, plagues may rage and fears may rise, but I know we will overcome whatever comes to pass. Because He already has.
Josephine Kalshoven is a First-Year PhD Student concentrating in Biomedical Engineering and sent us this post from Prince George’s County, Maryland.