Monthly Archives: September 2008

The List

Blind Faith (No. 39, 2008)
The following story first came to my in-box about 5 years ago. It has made the e-mail forward circuit a couple of times since then. Several attempts to verify the incident or to track the author have been unsuccessful. I still like the story very much. After you read it, get ready to put the principle into practice. I’ll suggest a couple of ways you might try.
The List One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers. That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. “Really?” she heard whispered. “I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!” and, “I didn’t know others liked me so much.” were most of the comments. No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another. That group of students moved on. Several years later, one of the students was killed in Vietnam and his teacher attended the funeral of that special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature. The church was packed with his friends. One by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin. As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” he asked. She nodded: “yes.” Then he said: “Mark talked about you a lot.” After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates went together to a luncheon. Mark’s mother and father were there, obviously wanting to speak with his teacher. “We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.” Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him. “Thank you so much for doing that,” Mark’s mother said. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.” All of Mark’s former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.” Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.” “I have mine too,” Marilyn said. “It’s in my diary.” Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. “I carry this with me at all times, ” Vicki said and without batting an eyelash, she continued: “I think we all saved our lists.” That’s when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again. The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don’t know when that one day will be. So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late… (Author Unknown)
Some simply stated Bible verses reverberate within the actions of the story. One of them is among the first memory verses learned by many children: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NKJV) Be kind. Can there be a more simple kindness than writing down the nicest thing you can say about someone, and giving it to them? After all, the Bible promises: “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, making people happy and healthy.” (Proverbs 16:24 NCV) And fellow followers of Jesus are reminded to build each other up, with a sense of urgency to do it often: “Encourage each other every day while you have the opportunity.” (Hebrews 3:13 GWT) These simple actions, so tenderly evident in The List, are part of the Bible’s prescription for growing friends who keep strong, close relationships with one another and with Jesus, from whom they learn to love. An example of writing nice words about a friend is preserved in the beginning of the New Testament book, 3 John. John writes the nicest thing he can think to say about his dear friend, Gaius: “My dear friend, I know your soul is doing fine, and I pray that you are doing well in every way and that your health is good. {3} I was very happy when some brothers and sisters came and told me about the truth in your life and how you are following the way of truth. {4} Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear that my children are following the way of truth. {5} My dear friend, it is good that you help the brothers and sisters, even those you do not know. {6} They told the church about your love. Please help them to continue their trip in a way worthy of God.” (3 John 1:2-6 NCV) I wonder how many times Gaius returned to that letter, rereading John’s words, finding fresh hope on a bad day, or encouragement to keep on growing into a more loving servant of Christ. Wouldn’t you be helped by receiving a kind word from a friend, a written word you could reread again and again, whenever you needed encouragement? Why don’t you offer such a simple, profound gift to a friend? Here are a couple of suggestions for putting the principles of The List into practice. Think of one person about whom you have something nice to say. Keep it short. Rather than sending e-mail to that person, invest a stamp, an envelope, and a business-sized or 3″ X 5″ card. Write on the back of one of your business cards, if you have one. Follow up the affirmation with prayer for that person each day for at least the week after they should receive the card in the mail. Then, think of something nice you can write to someone else, and repeat the process. If you work with Scouts, youth volunteers, adults in Sunday School, or some other group, get them to repeat the teacher’s assignment in The List, and follow up by giving the comments to the group members. (You are likely to have an easier time getting children and youth to do it than having adults participate freely.) Your time invested in compiling each group member’s list of kind words could pay dividends beyond your imagining. It’s simple. Write down the nicest thing you can say about someone. Send it to them. Go one step further, and pray for that person. Who knows what might happen. -J. Edward Culpepper, Ph.D.