My God-assignment for the day: substitute teacher, country school, third grade room. The kids were good and that made my day easier. But there was one little guy that just didn’t seem to be able to keep focused on his work. I noticed him repeatedly gazing out the window with a distant expression in his young eyes. I made the routine announcements encouraging everyone to keep focused. I stood by his desk whispering to him, personally. I even mentioned his name, aloud, once or twice, with a clear directive to make sure he was working on his assignment. All to no avail. All morning he was “distant” and “removed”.
Finally, right before lunch, the teacher role slipped aside and compassion prevailed. You see, I recognized the same far away look that I experienced when I had recently struggled with a relationship heartache. I quietly asked him to join me outside the classroom door. I asked caring-based questions. He sadly revealed that his daddy had left (at this point I don’t remember the particulars) and he was missing him. I dared to share my own emotions about missing a loved one. How that I had the same tendency to keep thinking about the person and realizing that I wasn’t getting my job done. I let him know that I understood his plight. I explained that it would help him to keep focused on his work because it helped me. Then I asked him if he would try his best to keep busy after lunch. He agreed to try. As the class jostled out, I encouraged him, once again, to do his best work.
After lunch, it was obvious this little one had pulled out all the stops to put forth his best effort. I praised him for his hard work. At one point, he left the class for a special program. When he returned, he worked hard again and kept focused. I could only shake my head and smile at his great tenacity.
Finally, the day was complete. I asked everyone to tidy up, gather their homework, and get ready to line up. To my surprise, that little guy got up from his seat, determinedly walked to my desk while looking me straight in the eyes, and without saying a word, wrapped both of his eight year old arms around my neck and gave me the most wonderful gift of love that I have ever received. Then he turned without a word and walked out the door. Tears still well up in my eyes some 30 years later. I don’t believe I have ever received such a loving “thank you” as I did that day…the day I obeyed the Holy Spirit’s leading and said the right thing at the right time, letting a heartbroken little boy know that he and his feelings of grief mattered. (Proverbs 25:11) I thought my assignment was to substitute teach, but I now think it was really to make a difference for one little third grade boy.
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