Not too long ago I was teaching swimming lessons. I taught 7 different classes within 2 weeks. I taught maybe 40 kids. Almost all of them were strangers, and almost all of them I will never see again. I helped them with their swimsuits, held their hands, calmed them down, carried them across the water, earned their trust, sang with them, laughed with them, swam with them, disciplined them, educated them, graded them, passed them, failed them.
A few months before that, I was a swim club coach. I coached the little ones. The ones between the ages of 3 and 6. I saw them every week for 6 months and have seen about 2 of them since.
Being a teacher or a coach or a leader of any kind is a bittersweet thing. The kids love you and trust you... but then they get a sticker and move on. They forget about you. They remember what you taught them, and maybe they have a faint memory of the things you said, but for the most part, you were a very small part of their life. I'm reminded of it every time I see a child that once held my hand, and now does not even recognize me.
Am I selfish? Am I stupid? Am I ignorant? I don't even know. People pass through my life every day, and I pass through theirs. We come and we go. In and out. How many cashiers have I spoken to in my lifetime? How many waiters and waitresses? How many flight attendants, nurses, doctors, secretaries, neighbors, teachers, assistants, parents, acquaintances, and random strangers have I come into contact with once, and never again?
I've been thinking about all those people who I'll never see again. I've been thinking about what I said to them. "Please." "Thank you." "How are you?" "Have a good day." "Kick your legs." "Stop screaming." "Excuse me?" "Okay." "I'm fine." "Sorry." "Listen." "Yes." "No." "Good bye."
I'm a blip on the radar screen in their lives. I'm of minimal consequence. I'm just a face that has probably never crossed their mind since we last interacted. I'm just "That one coach I had when I was little." I'm just "This teacher I had back in grade...." I'm just "This one customer the other day...."
I may be completely forgotten by 99% of those people, and I've probably forgotten 99% of them. But then, there are times when we are of slightly more than minimal consequence. There are times like a few weeks ago, sitting in the hot tub after swimming lessons, when my young student leans over and whispers to me, "Teacher... are you a Christian?"
There are times like back in July when the group of pre-teens I taught ask me, "Are you excited for your 18th?" "Are you gonna get drunk? Because that's what we're gonna do."
There are times like back in February when one little girl opens up for just a second and tells me, "I don't know where my Daddy is anymore," and then her sister adds, "He moved away, silly."
It's depressing. There are rare times when something of importance comes up between me and the kids that I get to influence for one meager week in their lives... and what then?
Back in Junior High, a friend told me something I'll never forget. She said that people are like produce. Like any kind of vegetable, grain, or fruit, they are planted, watered, and then harvested. The thing is, we aren't the gardeners. We're just the hired hands. Some of us are hired to plant the seeds. Sometimes we're hired to water and nurture them. And sometimes... we get to harvest the crop.
Sometimes we get to stay for all three stages. We get to plant the seed of Christ, we get to help the person grow and teach them more, and sometimes we also get to follow them through to salvation.
But not always.
Sometimes we are hired for just a split second. Maybe we are hired right in the middle somewhere and we feel like we've done nothing. Sometimes we don't get to see the finished product, because our job is to say just one word to water them. Maybe our job is to show them one act of kindness, and plant a seed.
Maybe our job, when they ask if we are a Christian, is to say, "Yes." Without shame or hesitation.
Maybe our job, when they ask if we're going out to get drunk as soon as we turn 18, is to say, "Definitely not."
Maybe our job, when they tell us about their Daddy who has disappeared, is to simply give them a hug and tell them that they are valuable.
Maybe we're only meant to plant the seed. Maybe we just have to water it a little. Maybe it is our job to bring them to accept Jesus into their hearts.
The point is, don't lose hope. Don't lose heart. Don't give up in frustration, because if you are willing to be God's servant, His hired hand, He will use you. Wherever you are, you are working in his garden. You are meant to be living proof of His existence, and His unconditional love. It may not always seem rewarding, but God is using you. How can the fruit be watered if the seed hasn't even been planted? How can the crop be harvested if nobody bothered to water it?
You are important to the work of the Kingdom of Heaven. We all must step up and accept the responsibility. People are always watching, even if they don't realize it. All the cashiers, waiters, waitresses, flight attendants, nurses, doctors, secretaries, neighbors, teachers, assistants, parents, acquaintances, and random strangers are loved by God, and have been put in your path on purpose. Be a good worker. Plant, water, prune, harvest, and do whatever it takes. Because maybe you will see those strangers again. In heaven.
Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying, ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”