(David Sisler's newspaper column, Not For Sunday Only, is in its 13th year of weekly publication. For reprint permission, or to subscribe, contact Mr. Sisler at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
“Each of you take out two clean sheets of paper,” she said. “Write the name of every student in the class and leave a space between each name.”
The students looked quizzically at Sister Helen, but they complied.
“Now,” their teacher instructed, “think of the nicest thing you could say to each of your classmates and write it underneath their names.”
Sister Helen collected the papers and over the weekend organized what the students had written. She wrote each student's name on a separate sheet of paper and listed what everyone else had said about the individual. On Monday, she passed the papers out to the respective students.
Before long, the entire class was smiling. Someone whispered, “Really?” Another student said, “I never knew that meant anything to anyone!” Still another said, “I didn't know others liked me so much!”
Years later Sister Helen was asked to speak at the funeral of one of her former students, a young soldier who had died in Vietnam. As she stood by the coffin at the grave side, one of the soldiers who had acted as a pallbearer said, “Mark talked about you a lot.”
After the funeral, Mark's family and most of his former classmates gathered at a friend's house. Mark's father took a wallet out of his pocket and said, “Sister Helen, they found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.”
He opened the billfold and carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper. The paper had been taped, folded and refolded many times. It was the list of all the good things Mark's classmates had said about him.
Slowly Mark's classmates gathered around Sister Helen. One young woman pulled her frayed list from her purse. Another said, “Mine is in my dresser drawer.” Another said, “I keep mine in my desk at work.” It seemed as if every member of the class had saved that list, a simple sheet of paper which rehearsed the good things about each of those former ninth grade students.
Yul Brynner is best remembered for his roll in “The King and I.” In one of his last interviews, the actor said, “Kindness is not something that is due you, nor is friendship, nor tenderness, nor love. If somebody gives you kindness or warmth, you must cherish that as the greatest possible gift.”
Ellen Corby is fondly remembered as “Grandma” from the television show, “The Waltons.” You may not remember that she suffered a stroke in the middle of one season. Instrumental in her recovery, Ellen Corby said, was the encouragement of watching “The Waltons” every week and seeing that the producers had not written her out of the show. The fact that they valued her character and appreciated her work helped her recover.
Ask a successful actor to name the most important part of his work and he'll say, “It's the rehearsal. It's the constant practice.” Ask a successful athlete the most important part of his competition, and he'll say, “It's the endless hours of practice before the game ever begins.”
If you copied Sister Helen's lesson and made a list of appreciation and then began to practice kindness, and friendship, and love, whose name would you place first on the list? Let me make a suggestion. List God first and thank him for his Son. List yourself next and appreciate who you are because of Jesus.
Now that you have the list started, practice, practice, practice. It may never make you perfect, but practicing love will change you and everyone you touch with that practice.