People influence you in different ways and in different stages of life. In my case, my gratitude for them has grown as I have gotten older and matured. I’ve realized how unusual and special they were.
One of those was my fourth grade Sunday School teacher, Milford Christian. (Yes, his last name really was Christian!) I loved being in his class. He was in the Royal Air Force and his Bible lessons were peppered with illustrations from flying in war time. No one ever was bored in Mr. Christian’s class.
He had a dry sense of humor, a positive spirit, and was a cheerful man. Though I know we were boisterous at times (a bunch of 10 year old boys!), he never saw us as annoying. He made me want to come to Sunday School each week. And I’m so thankful to him for that.
Not too many years later, when I became a teenager, we became good friends. He and his wife opened their home and a group of us found our way there to spend time on after church on Sunday nights. We talked, laughed, and sang while our friends Jimmy and Mike played the guitar. Both Mr. and Mrs. Christian were hospitable and fun. Looking back, I know we stayed too late. They loved us.
They influenced me more than they ever knew. Especially Mr. Christian.
I didn’t always look forward to attending Sunday School. Some teachers aren’t like Mr. Christian. They tolerate children and teenagers. His weekly Bible lessons that came alive with personal applications and illustrations helped to shape my life. His shepherd’s heart extended beyond the teaching hour where he took an interest in a young boy’s life and later as a teenager.
I appreciate him more now than I did then. When Mr. and Mrs. Christian graduated to Heaven, I went to both of their funerals. I owed it to them because of the impact they had on my life. Sometimes I visit their burial place when I’m in that cemetery helping with a funeral. I pause for a few minutes and remember them and thank God for their lives. I recount ways I was helped by them, their kindnesses, and investment in my life.
Their home is not far from where we live now. Sometimes I spontaneously drive by and just remember. It helps to keep their memory alive in my heart and my gratitude fresh.
Every now and then I walk through the church where I grew up and I visit that little classroom where Mr. Christian taught all of us boys in the fourth grade. It’s a lot smaller than when I recalled as a boy. It’s easy to remember the people and places when your life was impacted. I smile as my heart is warmed when I walk in that room. God used a faithful man to teach me about His Word, Himself, and His Son, Jesus Christ in those days and in that place.
After I went to college, I didn’t see Mr. Christian often, but when we did, I would remind him of those days and how he influenced my life. It meant a lot to me to have a great teacher that cared enough to be effective.
One of my favorite quotes is that, “Meditation is love’s nourishment.” The opposite is true, too. We starve love when we fail to remember people and the ways they have helped us. The more specific we are in our memory, the deeper our gratitude we feel for them.
Many years ago, on a Sunday after church our family had walked into a restaurant with my parents for a meal. My father said, “Rick, there is Tom Brown!” (Not his real name). I hadn’t seen him in decades. He was aged now, sitting with his wife. We had attended church together and he, too, had been one of my Sunday School teachers when I was a boy. I had been trying to find him for a long time.
I approached the booth where he and his wife were eating and introduced myself, wondering if he would still remember me. After sitting down beside him, I gave him the short version of what I had been doing and what I was doing at the present, pastoring a church. I told him of how I remembered him teaching me as a boy and I thanked him for helping me. I shared in specific ways how he had blessed me and helped me.
He had stopped eating and was totally focused on me and what I was saying. He never said a word and just let me talk. Tears welled up in his eyes and then spilled down his weathered face in that crowded restaurant. After I finished, he thanked me for stopping by and then replied, “No one has ever told me that before.”, referring to the fact that someone had been blessed by his ministry.
After I left his table to go to be with my family, my heart was warmed, but also broken. It was warmed because I was able to finally track him down and thank him for how he had helped me. But I wondered how many other teachers and leaders that had helped youngsters (me) to learn God’s Word had never heard a word of appreciation.
We don’t love people because of what we get out of it; we love because it is the right thing to do and what God has commanded us to do. But we do get a lot out of loving.
Who influenced you as a teacher or a coach – or taught you a skill that has helped you in your professional or personal life? Have you ever expressed your gratitude to them? Even if they have passed on, keep their name and memory alive. When you do, you not only honor them, but teach your children and grandchildren the importance and power of being thankful.
Don’t let those that have helped you along the way feel like, “No one has ever told me that before.” Tell them in time. It will encourage them and it will bless you.