I learned last night of the passing of one of my junior high teachers. He didn’t die recently. Someone just happened to mention him in a Facebook discussion. He did die young – not much older than I am now.
I found out that this teacher was a Christian. He had even attended an evangelical Christian college before becoming a teacher. Yet it wasn’t his Christian witness that left a lasting impression.
He was my PE teacher for both years I was required to take that excruciating hour of instruction daily. I don’t think I had ever consciously forgiven him for what I, as a young teenager felt about how I had been treated all those years ago.
I was a small nerd with no athletic ability or inclination. I wore thick horn-rimmed glasses in the 7th grade and super-thick wire-framed glasses in the 9th. Neither pair fared well under the onslaught of well-aimed dodge balls during the hours of his supervision. We played dodge ball every time there was inclement weather and it seems those junior high years corresponded with a nine-month monsoon seasons.
But beyond dodge ball, the specific memories have faded. After all, I left the 9th grade in 1979. The resentment remained. It wasn’t something I thought about much, but when I did, the hurt was still there. I didn’t even want to watch sports for years.
Twenty-five years after I left the 9th grade, I, too, became a school teacher. During seven years in the classroom, I taught lots of young teenagers. For the most part, they didn’t like my subject, just like I didn’t like PE. Some of them weren’t very academically inclined, just as I wasn’t very athletically inclined.
Last night, instead of dwelling on how my PE teacher hurt me, I thought about how I may have caused hurt to some of the young people under my care. I know I didn’t allow them to suffer any physical injury, but did my quick tongue, ever ready to slice and dice, cut deep? I’m sure I favored those students who liked my subject and disfavored those who didn’t.
How many of them do not remember my Christian witness, even though I taught Religious Education? How many of them were turn off from Jesus just because of me?
I have no doubt that my PE teacher forgot about me as soon as I was no longer a name in his grade book. I wonder about all those that I’ve forgotten who might not have forgotten me. Are there now young adults who think back on learning my subject and resent the experience they had under my tutelage?
The little things we do and say can have an impact long after we’ve forgotten them. That influence can continue long after the specific words and actions are no longer remembered.
It is so important to remember Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
May my teacher rest in peace in the presence of the Lord awaiting the day of resurrection. May I learn from how his example has illuminated my own darkness, so that I might better be an instrument of life, light and healing.