Three ingredients that foster warmth and support
A sweet boy in my fourth-grade class turned to his classmates for prayer. “My mom has cancer.” Thomas’ eyes were somber, confident, and earnest and he shared his burden. Since that request months ago, our class has journeyed with him through long rounds of chemotherapy, conversations about the fear of death, and stories of little sisters acting wild in response to worry. In the midst of this difficulty, grace permeated our classroom, creating moments of genuine kindness. Like gentle ripples in a pond, Thomas’ sharing
blossomed into prayerful openness among many of the students.
Kids long for a supportive environment
This blessed class is a gift from God. But as it unfolded over time, I noticed subtle patterns usually missed during other busy, content-driven classes. Perhaps you, too, in tender moments have listened to the Holy Spirit and realized that kids want to talk (just a little bit). “My mom is stressed out. I’m worried about her.” “We cannot visit my dying grandpa
because he lives too far away.” I saw that kids reverently protect an environment where they can share a heavy burden (without it being a big deal) and know that others will respond lovingly. They feel relieved to hear that others just like them have substantial concerns.
While I didn’t intentionally create this classroom of compassion, I can deduce three ingredients that fostered such warmth. I hope that some of these can help open doors in your own classroom for students to minister to each other.
Things that helped
1. Vulnerable sharing by a few leaders
When my co-teacher talked about her own battle with cancer, kids were attentive to hearing how just doing the laundry or making a little meal for an unexpected guest was almost more than she could bear. Likewise, when Thomas gave updates about his mom, the whole class was in awe, and they tried to relate to similar things in their lives.
2. Service tasks that open the door for conversation
Oh boy, do these children want to help! You and I know this from the eager volunteering to pass out pencils and turn off the lights, but when we decided to donate our crafts to an organization that brings gift baskets to patients undergoing chemotherapy, the kids were more enthusiastic than ever. Corresponding with a lesson on the Anointing of the Sick, we made “God’s eyes” (see below). As the children wound the yarn, they naturally and sincerely conversed about other sick people they loved. The distraction of the task partnered with the positive goal of our project made people upbeat, chatty, and sincerely ready for real conversation.
To make God’s eyes with your own classroom, take two popsicle sticks and place them in a cross shape. Weave 8 feet of yarn around the cross by circling the yarn around one branch of the cross, then move to the next and circle that one and move to the next. Continue until you have 5 inches left, at which point you can tie a knot. Tutorials are found online at CATmag.us/2wxFnC9 and CATmag.us/2KmJtoz.
3. Consistent communal prayer
We prayed. Toward the end of each class, we gathered shoulder to shoulder around a candle and a cross so students could offer petitions. Jesus is our answer, our stronghold, and our God. Although there still is plenty of room for encountering God more personally, the students are learning to bring everything to him. Prayer time was often when the fourth-graders would show their concern and compassion for friends, family, and the world.
Thankfully, Thomas’ mom seems to be winning the battle against cancer. Your students
also are going through significant plights for which they long to be supported. I hope that through prayer, service, and simple sharing, you can enjoy a classroom of compassion, too.
Carrie Soukup has an MA in Theology and is a catechist and high school teacher in the northwest Chicago suburbs. Find her stories and tips for flourishing in prayer at GraceFinders.com.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, September 2019
PHOTOS (T-B): SEAN SPRAGUE/CIRIC, FSTOP123/ISTOCK, CARRIE SOUKUP