Years ago, I was asked by the leaders of our congregation to be the music teacher to the children on Sundays. Many congregation members laughed when they heard about the assignment, but my children were the worst. My wife has a master’s degree in music and performs a lot, but I seldom do anything musically in public. I might play the harmonica around the campfire and even played the harmonica for a choir number of Home on the Range once, but that challenged my comfort level. My children could hardly imagine me leading music.
As frightened as I was, I accepted the assignment. I loved the children. Previously, when the congregation leaders asked for volunteers to be substitute teachers at a moment’s notice, I was the only one who volunteered. I loved the assignment and enjoyed my time with the children. But music scared me so badly that everything I tried was a failure.
Then, one day, the lady who oversaw the children’s teaching on Sundays pulled me aside. “Daris,” she said, “you are trying so hard. But one thing that might help is to remember that you only have one job when working with the children, and that is to love them. For years, you have shown you can do that. You continue to do that, and everything else will follow.”
I thought a lot about that and realized I was trying to be something I wasn’t. I had read every idea I found that people had for teaching children music, but those ideas didn’t work for me because they weren’t the way I worked with children.
I changed and started teaching how I teach best, and suddenly, things got better. I will share more on that in another story, but this week, having had Thanksgiving,
I want to share a story of one little girl.
Mary was a darling little six-year-old. She was shy but loved to sing. But then her parents became embroiled in a nasty divorce. I watched as Mary started to withdraw and build a wall around herself. She wasn’t the only child going through that in our community, but she seemed to be more devastated by what she was experiencing than any of the others.
I tried to give extra attention to any child I felt needed it, but I especially tried reaching out to Mary. Sometimes I would hear her softly joining in on her favorite songs, but mostly she just sat quietly. I always expressed my love for the children and tried to involve all of them, but especially Mary. Sometimes I felt she was slightly opening the barrier she had erected around herself, but I usually felt as shut out as everyone else in her life.
At Thanksgiving time, as part of our time together on Sunday, the children colored a picture of what they were grateful for to share with someone who meant a lot to them. The children all seemed to be preparing to share it with their parents. As we ended that day, I again let the children know I loved them, then sent them on their way with some popcorn and candy corn as a Thanksgiving treat. But as the other children left to show their parents their artistic endeavors, Mary held back.
She shyly brought her picture to me. I knelt so I could be at her height. I could tell she had put her heart into it, and I praised her for it. She smiled timidly, and I assumed she would take it to her parents. Instead, she put it into my hand and then threw her arms around my neck. She hugged me tight and cried a little as she did. I hugged her, too, and then she ran off to join her family.
I had thought the picture was of her and one of her parents. But, as I looked deeper, I realized it was her singing, with me leading the music. Then, in one corner, in small children’s printing, I saw the words, “I love you, too.”
And I felt very emotional as I realized that even though I felt I failed a lot in teaching music, the one thing that the children learned was that I loved them.