By Elizabeth Prata
It’s Christmas time in a public elementary school. I live in the Bible Belt, where many of the children attend church, go to a VBS, or have fun on Wednesday night AWANAs. More than a few kids here at least have a passing knowledge of who Jesus is. Of course there are others who believe differently, or not at all. Occasionally there might be a slight brouhaha among the kids, as the other day when an earnest little believer was trying to convince her lunch partner that Christmas is about Jesus’ birthday. That one I can resolve easily.
And, in an elementary school it also means the little kids have more than a passing understanding of who Santa is. One of the grades I work with is second grade, that 7-8 year old range where some kids are starting not to believe in Santa, while others do. Arguments ensue. “Mrs. Prata, isn’t Santa, real? ISN’T he? Joey said he’s not!” Gulp. That one I tread between the mines in the field and try NOT to resolve it.
When I was working as a classroom paraprofessional, and thus had a lengthy relationship built with the kids day by day all day, the classroom students would give me gifts during the holiday season. Not all of them, but a good many offered some little thing or other, usually soap or lotion or a Christmas mug filled with prepackaged hot chocolate. It wasn’t necessary of course, but their tokens of appreciation were gratefully received and duly honored. Since I’m not assigned to a classroom this year, I was not expecting any of the kids I briefly work with through the day to remember me with a gift.
This week, the last week before Christmas Break, I returned to my room to find a Christmas bag on my desk. It was decked out with tissue paper and a tag that said “To Mrs. Prata” and a card. Oh, how sweet! But it was from a student I was not familiar with. I didn’t work with him in my reading group or my interventions. There were three presents inside. Hmmm, who IS this little guy who gave me such an elaborate gift?
I emailed the school secretary and asked what classroom he was in. Turns out he is a kindergartener. He is a quiet boy who never says much. I went to thank him of course, and gave him a thank you card to take home. I wracked my brain trying to think of where our connection lay.
It must be because I’m “The Hello Lady” as the kids say. I stand at the end of the hall where the students come in through the double doors in the morning from bus or car riders, and I greet them. I try to greet each one by name, and say a welcoming thing like “I’m glad you’re here!” Or “Welcome to school” and include something personal, remarking if they’ve gotten a haircut or new glasses or wearing a new outfit. If they come up to me to show me where they lost a tooth or they fell down and hurt their knee or have an ant bite, I exclaim and sympathize. Their little problems are big to them. As the bell rings and the lines file out to head to the classroom I always say “Have a great day! See you later!”
This little kindergartener had never come up to me individually and has to my knowledge never said anything to me in the halls when we pass. He just passively received the greetings and goodbyes, and studiously observed the goings-on from his perspective. But he was touched enough to go to the trouble to find out my name, how to spell it, and give me several gifts in a Christmas bag decorated with with tissues and stickers.
I was moved.
There might have been a tear or two.
I mulled this deeply for a day and a night.
What lesson can I learn from this? If someone was so touched by secular words, mere hellos and have a good day, words powered by sincere but professional love, what of words said in Christian love, powered by the Spirit? How much more would someone be touched by those words? Kindness, gentle words, encouraging words?
How much does the Bible tell us to be kind? How much does the Bible tell us that words matter? How important is what we say?
Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32).
And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. (2 Peter 1:7).
To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; (1 Peter 3:8).
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; (Colossians 3:12).
As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
I thought the words to this hymn made my point perfectly. I am working on making sure I’m encouraging and that my words are kind. (Not that one never has to sternly warn or even rebuke, but one can do so kindly, i.e. in love).
Encouragement to Christian Effort.
Hymns for Christian Devotion —
J.G. Adams, C. M. Lond.
1 Scorn not the slightest word or deed,
Nor deem it void of power;
There’s fruit in each wind-wafted seed,
Waiting its natal hour.
2 A whispered word may touch the heart,
And call it back to life;
A look of love bid sin depart,
And still unholy strife.
3 No act falls fruitless; none can tell
How vast its power may be;
Nor what results enfolded dwell
Within it silently.
4 Work and despair not: bring thy mite,
Nor care how small it be;
God is with all that serve the right,
The holy, true, and free.
This Christmas season, and every season, friends, be kind.