A few minutes and kind words is all it takes to make a difference

Recently, I began teaching swimming at a private school. Despite my endless marking and Master’s degree work, I just felt I needed to be at the school. It started off quite fun, getting to know all the children. The younger children, after their first lesson with me, now run up and hug me every time they see me. At first it confused me, I thought “they don’t even know me yet, we’ve had one interaction and already they treat me as if they’ve known me their whole life”. After one lesson, one 9 ear old told her friend who was about to swim with me “Alison is the best ever, you’ll love her!”. Again, I was confused, we had one lesson and she already liked me that much? I had only interacted with her for 45 minutes to possibly an hour. There was a lesson in that, which has taken me a while to realize but I’ll expand on that in a minute.

I had made an effort to try learn every child’s name (about 60 in total) so that I could address them by their names, I’ve noticed that people in general appreciate your effort to learn their names. Also, I wanted them to know that I see them. So many children get caught up in the crowd, they go by without being noticed, some never have anyone asking them how they are and listening to the stories they have to share. I decided that I wanted each of them to know that I see them and I hear them. So along with learning names, asking everyone how they’re doing and having a quick chat as they got ready each session, I decided to mention any and every good thing I noticed about them. So whether it was sticking out the ice cold pool water, doing a better freestyle swim than last time or having good manners, I made a point of mentioning it and praising them for it.

We all need to be reminded about the good in us especially when the world constantly looks to highlight our faults. Last week on my way to the school I found myself asking God, “what difference could I be making in 45 minutes to an hour? These kids don’t know me, I don’t know anything about their lives. We only have twice a week together, am I even making any sort of influence? Is there a point here? I’m struggling to see how I’m helping”. I repeated these questions to a friend who works at the school, she said “Sometimes 45 minutes is all you need, all they need to be seen. Thank you for seeing these children”.

Honestly, I wasn’t convinced that I was doing anything different or meaningful. That afternoon the team showed up and within the first 5 minutes I had a conversation with one of the teenagers where I complimented her as I explained why I had chosen her for a certain leadership position. For a few seconds, she was speechless, she then thanked me wholeheartedly and the session began. But that moment confused me, she seemed very overwhelmed by what I had said and I couldn’t figure out why because to me it was a simple truth. I later found out that she struggles with many insecurities and low self esteem and that’s why my words meant so much to her. My turn to be speechless.

In the same session children that are known at school for their lack of discipline and trouble making ways were so well mannered with me and I got so many genuine smiles and laughs that for a few seconds it overwhelmed me. These children don’t know me, why are they so comfortable, why are their personalities changing in front of my eyes? They’re becoming friendlier, more comfortable, dare I say it, happier, right in front of my eyes. They arrive in one mood which quickly changes to a happier one in the time we spend together. What is actually happening here?

The cherry on top, so to say, was my favourite 4 year old arriving at swimming after having a very tight chest all morning. (The same day a child tells me about her mom’s asthma attack the day before). Anyway his mom advised he not swim to which he replied “Jesus will make my chest better for swimming”. Crazy thing is, he was better enough to swim and was still fine after swimming. To him it was a very simple situation, he had a problem so Jesus would have to fix it. That was the lesson I needed to be reminded of, childlike faith is what I’m striving for. There’s a 4 year old to teach me how.

Back to the lesson I mentioned in the beginning of this. It took the children 45 minutes to an hour to assess me. To determine if I was good or not, nice or not, sincere or not. It is said that children see the truth, they know when you’re being insincere or fake and they’re honest enough to call you out on it, they have no filter. In that short amount of time they saw everything I had decided I would do in an effort to encourage them. It takes adults a considerable amount of time to get to know each other enough to trust. Children trust and care in a matter of minutes. I was able to make an impact in that short amount of time. Lately, God has been emphasizing that I trust Him in every situation He leads me to and have faith that the bigger picture is at work. I couldn’t think of a better example to learn this lesson than through children. It all boils down to childlike faith.

“Then Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven”. -Matthew 18:3-4

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