Being a blessing

Faculty Address: August 9, 2017

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, welcome to our 21st year!

As I was thinking about my comments today, an image came to mind. In fact, it’s an image that reoccurs periodically at the most random of times. Picture this: I am in 1st grade at Ramey Elementary in Tyler over on the north side. Apparently, I have been misbehaving. My teacher, Elizabeth Stephens, swoops down, picks me up, rocks me in her arms and loudly proclaims to the 25 others in the class, “If you’re going to act like a baby, I’m going to treat you like one.” I was mortified. That made a profound impression on that young 6 year old, and not a good one. I’m sure a psychologist, or maybe even a psychiatrist, would have an interesting time determining the long-term effect that event had on me.

I tell you that story to say that words matter. The words we speak to our students matter.

I’ve been reading a book this summer that actually came out over 30 years ago. Many of you may have read it: The Blessing, by John Trent and Gary Smalley.

The book outlines a biblical way of helping people, particularly children and young people, to experience at the deepest level of their hearts the certainty that they are highly valued and forever treasured by someone incredibly significant in their lives. Or, to say it another way, a blessing.

At a Christian school, sometimes the assumptions are that our students are well-adjusted, loved at home and are being raised by model parents. While we certainly hope this is the case, in many cases, it simply is not.

Many children struggle with what experts call attachment disorder. The failure of children and young adults to create significant bonds with their parents or others as they get older. This could be due to many reasons: parental dysfunction due to their own upbringing, over-activity (busyness) of either the parents or children or both, lack of parenting skills. The lack of such bonds can lead to all sorts of unwise behavior, including future broken relationships.

Even the best and most loving homes can sometimes produce hurt or disappointment. Without a measure of appropriate self-worth, children tend to grab onto anything they can find to protect themselves and help them cope. Whatever works – it could be athletic ability, academic achievements, looks, drugs, alcohol. By the time they grow up, they may have multiple layers of false self-protection. The problem is that all these means at self-protection are temporary.

As teachers at Brook Hill, we are in a unique position to fill in the gap, to offer blessings to our students, some of whom do not receive that at home. Even if they do, it is good for that blessing to be reinforced by other significant adults in their lives. When we bless someone, we are really saying to them, “I choose to treat you as someone incredibly valuable in my life. You are of such great value to me, I choose do what I can to add to your life.” I hope you understand what a powerful and incredible responsibility, and privilege, this is.

So how do we go about blessing our students? It’s not merely adding the word “Blessings” to the end of an email or letter, although that may be a nice thing to do. The “blessing,” as described in Scripture, always included 5 elements:

1. A meaningful and appropriate touch;
2. A spoken message;
3. Attaching high value to the one being blessed;
4. Picturing a special future for him or her; and
5. An active commitment to fulfill the blessing.

Let’s quickly look at these.

The act of touch – a warm handshake, a pat on the back, an appropriate hug – is key in communicating warmth, personal acceptance, affirmation. Each time a blessing was given in Scripture, a meaningful touch provided a caring background to the words that were spoken. A study at UCLA found that people need 8-10 meaningful touches a day just to maintain emotional and physical health. How many of our students fail to receive even one? Even the most insignificant touch conveys love and personal acceptance.

A blessing fulfills its purpose only when it is verbalized – spoken in person or written down, preferably both. Children are left to fill in the blanks if you don’t tell them what you think of them. James 3:5-6 says that the tongue “sets on fire the course of our life.” A spoken blessing is powerful. And Matthew 12:37 – “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

To convey the blessing, the words must also attach high value to the person being blessed. You can do this by using word pictures or comparing a student with an everyday object. The other day I was visiting with one of our recent graduates, and I compared him to a cannon. After the surprised look, I told him that, like a cannon, he made a big impression. When he spoke, people listened, that he needed to use his powerful influence on those around him, that he could make a real difference in people and in his world. Hopefully, he’ll be reminded of that each time he sees a cannon. You’ve heard a picture is worth a thousand words. When we link a word picture with a message of high value, we multiply our message a thousand times.

The fourth element of a blessing is the way it pictures a special future for the one being blessed, a future that is full of light and opportunity. We can and should let them know we believe they can build an outstanding life and future with the strengths and abilities God has given them. We might say, for example, “God has given you such a sensitive heart. I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up helping a great many people when you get older.” Picturing a special future for a student can help bring out the best in his or her life. Look at how Jeremiah assures us of the special future we have with God: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

And finally, we need to actively commit to fulfill the blessing. Words alone cannot communicate the blessing; they need to be backed with a willingness to do everything possible to help the one blessed be successful. If we tell a student they have the potential to be a great musician but fail to encourage them to practice or provide them with an instrument, the words ring hollow. How can we practically do this? First, ask God to confirm the blessing. Then seek the best interests of the one being blessed. Of course, discipline when appropriate. (Hebrews 12:5-6 – “For those whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.”) Become a student of those you wish to bless: learn what their interests are, attend their games and performances, ask questions, actively listen with undivided attention.

This year, I personally have committed to be more intentional in blessing my students. I hope you will consider this calling as well. Let me close by reading a prayer that appears in the book. May this be the prayer of us all.

“Lord, may our students never have to search for words or be left wondering if they are of value to us or to you. Help us to bless them, Lord – with our words, with our actions, with our lives. Remind us not to leave our words to chance but to choose to bless our students. In the name of Jesus, from whom all blessings flow. Amen.”