A Letter and the Answer

J.R. Miller


[Editor's note: Though the following article is related to school teachers it may especially apply to any who faithfully labor on in any type of unpaid Christian ministry.]

"I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance." Revelation 2:2

It may be that in the following extract from a letter, received from a weary and discouraged teacher in one of our common schools, the writer has given expression to feelings which exist, unspoken, in the hearts of hundreds of other teachers:

"I am growing very weary of my work. I toil away, year after year, in obscurity, unnoticed, unhonored. No one ever speaks to me encouragingly or sympathizingly. Night and day I carry the children in my heart; I live only for them; I give all the energies of my soul to my work on their behalf. And yet their parents rarely ever, by word or token, recognize my interest in them, or my work for them. The children themselves are ungrateful. They grow up and pass into their places in life without cherishing one kind remembrance of their teacher. Oh, how I long for sympathy, for some expression of gratitude and love! There are hours when I would give all I have in the world, for one word of encouragement."

It is perhaps true that there is no class of earnest, faithful workers, toiling anywhere with less sympathy and encouragement, and less earthly reward, than the teachers in our common schools. Their wages are but a mean and beggarly pittance. Then they are robbed of that reward, which is better than money the love and gratitude of those for whom they toil. I do not think the words of my weary and discouraged friend are too strong.

Now these things ought not so to be. There is no nobler work performed on this earth, than is wrought by the great army of common-school teachers in our land. They deserve a far more liberal remuneration than they receive. The parents should esteem them very highly for their work's sake, and give them that sympathy and encouragement which their hearts crave. And children, growing up to manhood and womanhood, should carry deep in their hearts the names of their early teachers.

It is our duty to remember, with gratitude every one who has ever . . .
borne a blessing to us;
left a beautiful touch upon the canvas of our life;
given us any fresh impulse;
comforted, cheered, or encouraged us at any time;
or helped to fit us for usefulness in the world.

And next to our own parents, there are none who do so much to mold and shape our lives for the spheres we occupy as our early teachers. We are apt to regard them as people whose mission in life is to deprive us of our liberty, and make the hours tedious and irksome to us but I would love now to meet the teachers of my childhood. I would thank them from my deepest heart for all that they did for me.

But I desire in this paper to point all, who, like my weary friend, have become discouraged to the brighter side of this work. There are encouragements which should keep them always glad, which should spring up in their hearts as fountains of strength, inspiration, and blessing, ever fresh and new.

What pleasure is sweeter than the consciousness of having helped and blessed others! And every faithful teacher has this consciousness in his own bosom. No one will ever, in the future, near or remote, regret having been a faithful teacher of the young. Whoever gives a child a good and holy impulse, or helps to shape a character, or beautify a life, or fit anyone for usefulness does a noble and glorious work. He may toil very obscurely. The world may have no word of praise for him as he works year after year. No one, blessed by him, may return again to call him blessed. No hand of gratitude may bring a wreath for his brow.

But God knows every good deed we do. And he sees every touch the teacher gives to a young life; every new and fresh impulse toward growth and development he inspires; every influence he exerts toward nobleness, wholesomeness, and usefulness. He registers every deed, every result. Or if the effort fails of result he registers the intention, and will not forget the reward.

The man who drops a seed into the ground may never see the plant that springs up, nor the flower that blooms. And those who admire its beauty, or enjoy its fragrance, may never think of the hand that dropped the seed. But no matter others are blessed. The flower gives comfort in some sick-room, or cheers one who is weary and sad. And God knows who prepared the blessing, and he will remember to bestow the reward where it belongs.

A man may plant a tree and shape its growth so that it shall spring up into lovely form. He may die before it reaches its full beauty. But no matter, others will admire its goodly proportions and be pleased, or those who are weary may sit in its shade and be refreshed, or eat of its fruit and be filled. They may not think of him who planted it, or trained it for gracefulness and fruitfulness but no matter, God remembers.

Not only the simple and immediate thing we do, does God count and reward but the results, the fruits, the blessings which spring out of the act, as well.

Let the teacher think of this when he grows weary in teaching. Let him think of the far-reaching influence of his labors. Elements of character will blossom out years and years hence because of the lessons, impulses, inspirations, and helps given in the school-room.

Some of those now under the teacher's care may become teachers themselves or they may preach the gospel, or in some other sphere may become great blessings in the world, standing like beautiful trees shaking off their golden fruits years hence, to feed hungry minds and hearts. Or they may become fathers and mothers, and may fill homes with holy blessings.

If the teacher lives to witness these remoter results it will give him great joy to see such beauty and fruitfulness springing from seeds which his hand has planted.

What does it matter that the world knows nothing now of the teacher's patient, self-forgetful work? Or that the world shall not know, when it gathers up these fruits in the future what hand sowed the seeds? Who thinks of the gardener when he walks through the beautiful garden, and admires the plants and flowers? Who thinks of the rain-drop when he looks upon the tall tree, or the fruit-covered branch? Who thinks of the sunbeam as he beholds the variegated beauty of the landscape?

Let the teacher who is weary, take new heart and toil on in patience. His work is obscure. He eats not here, the fruits of his toil and pain. No crown is on his head. The world forgets him. Those he blesses are ungrateful. No voice sings his praise. No monuments are reared to his honor. His works do not blazon his fame. When he dies, his name may not appear in public print. No loving friend may write his biography. No hand of gratitude may plant even a simple flower on his grave. But what does it matter? God knows what he has done. He knows whose hand shapes men's lives. He knows where the honor belongs. In Heaven, the tree will shake all its fruits into the lap of him who planted it.

Perhaps the best part of the world's history is never written with pen and ink, nor published from the printer's press. Perhaps the noblest work done on earth, is done out of the world's sight. Perhaps the Lord's best and most useful servants here, are those who toil patiently in silence and obscurity, without fame, reward, or recognition among men.

Like the roots in forest and field, which no man ever praises when he admires the tree, the flower, or the fruit they work on in the darkness, preparing rich blessings for the world, while they themselves are forgotten, and even trodden underfoot by the world.

The world thinks only of the greenness, fruitfulness, fragrance, and beauty. But God will remember the roots!

"Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58