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I remember the day so well from 45 years ago.
At that time I was working as a reading tutor for elementary students in the school where our youngest child was still attending. We met in one of those rooms in the basement of the building with a simple table and chairs and I largely met with third grade students assigned to me following testing that showed they were below grade level in reading. None of these were excited to step out of their classroom to meet with me, but one of them, a boy named Shawn, was especially unhappy about it and wasn’t excited about anything I had planned.
We had been working together for a number of weeks and I was still looking for that spot where we could connect so I could show him the path to better reading and that it could even be fun. On this particular day when I walked into the room, I didn’t see him until I spied a stray foot sticking out from under the table we used as a makeshift desk. I chose not to say anything since I was unsure of what he was seeking to have me understand initially. As I sat down, from beneath the table I heard him ask me the question, “Am I important?” Nothing could have surprised me more.
It took me a minute or two to consider what I would say and how but when I did answer him, I tried my best to assure him that he was indeed important and important to me and why I thought so. He waited for a few minutes before slipping out from under the desk and into his chair so we could start the work I had in mind.
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It was that moment that things began to change with Shawn, and he began to trust my direction and the materials I brought to help him grow in his reading skill.
But the thing that day left in my mind was how brave he was to ask the question. He could not know how I would answer. It was a question so few of us ever ask but can wonder about. We want to know if we are valued for who or what we are no matter what our skills may be. Only then can we begin to believe things can be better than we may believe they have been or are for us.
If we are honest, we all want to feel like we are somebody to someone no matter how old we are.
How we view ourselves can be improved as the author of The Sensation of Being Somebody wrote:
“Even though self-concept is an illusive image of self, and probably not so adequate as we would like it to be, we can gain new insights and work to overcome self-defeating patterns of thinking. The bad memories which influence us to think poorly of ourselves can be disarmed of their controlling power. Our fundamental interpretation of how we rate as a person can be changed.”Dr. Maurice Wagner
In Dr. Wagner’s book, he starts off by telling his readers that view of self comes from “functional aspects” made up of “appearance, performance, and status” that blend with “feelings” made up of “belongingness, worthiness, and competence.”
Page by page Dr. Wagner unpacks the good stuff from his education and experience as a psychologist with theological degrees to bring the sure foundation of who God wants us to see in ourselves. If you have never read this book, you might be able to find a dusty copy on a library shelf or used book department. It is well-worth the read even though published in 1975.
These hints from him likely can give you guesses of what might be impacting my young student, Shawn, hiding beneath the table and what he most needs to become a more skilled and effective student, but how does it work for you in this season of life no matter our age? Changes can still be made even though you may not believe that.
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“In fact, gerontology as a science – the study of the biological, psychological, and social aspects of aging – didn’t even begin until after WW II. Up until that time, any interest in age concentrated entirely on the means of prolonging youth or reversing the effects of aging. What gerontology is still lacking, however, is the awareness of the spiritual dimensions of the only part of life that gives us the resources we need to make a long-term evaluation of the nature and meaning of life itself.”Joan Chittister
We spend most of our lives doing things, acquiring things, ever pressing forward without a keen observation often of how quickly time is flying by and we are aging in various ways and various speeds. Suddenly we are aware of needing to pay off the mortgage, think about long-tern health coverage, and whether the house we loved will serve us when we retire. Silently or aloud we wonder how we got to this age anyway. We were simply so busy doing life that we failed to sometimes notice those things.
Those same things Wagner defines now hit us. We don’t look the same as we once did despite our best (or less than our best) efforts. Our performance in any number of areas may no longer be at its peak and our status has slipped when we are now referred to as “old” or even “elderly.”
“What am I when I am not what I used to do? And does anybody really care? And what does that have to do with growing into God?”Joan Chittister
Over the next few weeks as I approach one of those birthdays that catch us up short, I want to use some of my reflections stirred by those of Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years. No matter what your age, I hope you will join me in this story.
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