Newness: Rehearsing Beloved

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In the Christian Century magazine, the Rev. Mark Ralls recounts a beautiful and unexpected experience he had while visiting a local nursing home. [1]

Pastor Ralls had gone to the nursing home to visit a resident who was a member of his congregation. While they were sitting together and conversing in the atrium, he heard some strange, intriguing words.

“I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.”

These words soon became a playful refrain. Pastor Ralls and his friend heard these words innumerable times throughout their conversation. They were spoken by a woman who was sitting nearby them. She was a resident too, and though she was sitting close enough to touch them, she paid no attention to their conversation. He writes, “During my visit to the nursing home that afternoon, I must have heard this sweet, odd rhyme more than a hundred times.” She continued to look out the window, and with a broad smile on her face, she let her refrain fill the room.

“I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.”
“I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.”
“I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.”

She seemed continually delighted by these words.

After inquiring of a staff member, Pastor Ralls learned that this woman had been a first grade teacher for decades. Each morning, when the children entered the classroom for their day at school, she would lean down and speak these very words into each beloved ear.

What a beautiful, playful ritual.

I love this story because it invites me to imagine what those words must have been like for the children in her classroom. . .

. . . I wonder if they would giggle before she could finish, each one anticipating the end of the phrase.

. . . I wonder if they would smile before she started, each one anticipating that they were loved and valuable.

. . . I wonder if they would ever add their voices to the chorus, each one rehearsing the truth of their worth, silly as the phrase may be.

I also love this story because it invites me to imagine how those words must have formed her as a teacher. . .

. . . I wonder if she spoke these words on days when she was feeling discouraged, and they lifted her mood just a bit.

. . . I wonder if she took pleasure in speaking these words to particular children who struggled to trust love.

. . . I wonder if the rehearsal of these words helped her love herself more fully too.

No matter how these words were spoken or received in her classroom, it is clear that they resonated deep within her psyche many years later when she was challenged by dementia. The refrain is delightful and silly. It is also profound.

It makes me wonder. . .

Who has told you that you’re beloved?
Who has told you that you’re loved through and through?
Who has told you that you’re valuable and worth it all?

Do we rehearse those words and memories? Do we recall them and let them sink into our very being?

We can always begin that rehearsal again.

And if we doubt those words within us. . . guess what?

We can rehearse them again.
And again.
And again.
And again.

And if no one has told you today,
And if you’re struggling to tell yourself,
Please hear this truth:
You are Beloved,
Loved through and through,
Valued and worth it all.

As we enter 2016 in this season of newness, let’s rehearse our belovedness.

Renee Roederer

This post was the third in a series about newness. Here are the other posts:
Newness: The Time We Keep
Newness: Belonging Marks Beginning
Newness: Redeeming the Time

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[1] You can find Mark Rall’s story in The Christian Century. Rev. Ralls is a United Methodist pastor in North Carolina. I first learned of this story through sermon preached by the Rev. Ben Johnston-Krase, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastor who also lives in North Carolina.

2 thoughts on “Newness: Rehearsing Beloved

  1. At the start of each new school year I tell each class, “I’m here on purpose, because I like you (I certainly don’t do this for the money). You have to do a whole lot to make me NOT like you. So, why work that hard? Let’s enjoy each other’s company.” They laugh, but I rarely have major behavior problems, because they do know (and I reinforce it in many ways) that I do actually like them.

    When former students walk in, I hug them… right in front of everyone. It’s an atmosphere that led a few students from the early 90s, who recently told me they were gay (one was so obvious even my rather undeveloped gaydar then knew it for sure anyway) said they always felt safe in my room – able to be whomever they wanted to be. That makes me very happy.

    I can’t imagine a teacher working in a classroom who DIDN’T love their kids. How could you survive?

    Like

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