“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24
Michael was an unhappy child. Every time I entered the third grade classroom for French class, as the other children were bouncing with excitement, Michael was sitting silently at his desk with a scowl on his face. He rarely made eye contact, and when he did, I couldn’t help wondering what I had done to make him so angry. It seemed impossible to engage him in the lesson, and since French was considered an “extra” class anyway, I had given up on Michael and tried to focus my attention on the students who wanted to learn. Still, there were days when just seeing him sitting there sulking would frustrate me, no matter how engaged the others were.
One day I was a few minutes early, and as I waited in the hall I read the papers the children had written that had been posted outside the classroom. The holidays were approaching, and each child had written a wish list. Most of them were the usual things – a puppy, a video game, a bike …
But then I saw Michael’s paper, and it brought tears to my eyes. He had just one wish: “I wish I knew where my dad is.” Before I could take in the full significance of it, I was called in to teach.
That night I was awakened from a deep sleep with that piece of paper in my mind’s eye. I tried to pray for Michael, but all I could do was sob. I didn’t know how to pray for him, and as I asked the Lord to help me, the thought occurred to me: “If only he would do something good – just one thing – anything – I’d make a big deal of it and encourage him, instead of just scolding and nagging him.” So, I prayed that I could catch Michael being good, even though I couldn’t even picture what that might look like.
The next day as I came into the third grade classroom, Michael was sitting sulkily at his desk, as usual, while every other child was running around the room. As soon as they saw “Madame,” they scurried back to their seats and waited to see what fun thing we were going to do that day.
“Today we’re going bowling,” I announced, and all but one child squealed with excitement. I held up a bag of plastic bowling pins. “I’m going to need a helper today…” Immediately hands shot up with little cries of “Oo! Me! Me!”
Suddenly the lightbulb came on.
“… and since Michael was the only one who was where he was supposed to be when I came in today, he’s going to be my helper.”
Michael’s head snapped up, a look of utter astonishment on his face. I smiled and held out the bag. He jumped out of his seat and started setting up the bowling pins as I explained to the class that I would say the name of an animal in English. If they could tell me the word in French, they could roll the ball once, and if they could tell me in French what that animal says (For example, a French cow doesn’t say “Moo!’ It says “Meu!”), they would get two rolls.
For the next thirty minutes the students reviewed their farm animals, rolled the ball, and knocked over pins, and my trusty helper set the pins back up with lightning speed.
When we had just a few minutes left, Michael shyly asked if he could give it a try. I said, “Of course!” He got both the animal name and the sound right, and he knocked over all ten pins, as the class cheered. That may have been the first time I ever saw him smile.
I don’t know whether Michael ever got his Christmas wish, but I do know that, at least for this teacher, he was “Teacher’s Pet” for the rest of the year. (I’m pretty sure he learned quite a bit of French, too.)
Prayer: Father, open our eyes to what is admirable and praiseworthy in others, and to acknowledge it openly. Help us to encourage more than criticize. And while we know there are times we must confront what’s wrong, may it be where we have already laid a foundation of respect and appreciation, so that the voice of correction will be heard as the voice of love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.