“A teacher affects eternity.” ~ Henry Adams
Almost always she wore a simple black dress, but the black only made her gentle, smiling face shine ever more brightly. A splash of white trimmed her hemline for, almost always, her slip showed. But what I remember most about my first-grade teacher is that always her big, black Bible was on her desk.
The year was 1951, and I was a pupil in Miss Ritter’s lively class at Roosevelt Public Elementary School in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Every morning, just before the beginning of lessons, Miss Ritter summoned us to stand reverently by our desks as she took her big, black Bible and opened it to the twenty-third Psalm.
With a warm smile on her face, she intoned the familiar words. “Boys and girls, please rise.”
Immediately, we slid out of our seats and stood straight as soldiers. Not a student spoke or squirmed as our teacher slowly read the comforting words, for, instinctively, we knew that we had entered the presence of God.
Miss Ritter’s melodious voice rang throughout the room. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
The words instantly calmed my spirit. Although I did not fully comprehend their meaning, I felt their healing balm wash over my troubled soul like warm oil.
Despite my tender years, I had known much want: want of unconditional love, want of peace, and, on occasion, even want of food. Living in a home with serious problems, I had become an anxious, wounded lamb, untrusting and afraid. I did not know the care of a loving Shepherd. On the contrary, I knew much fear and emotional pain.
Day after day, as Miss Ritter faithfully read the twenty-third Psalm, a dream began to take root within me. Would this wonderful Shepherd my teacher read about every day ever want to become my Shepherd? How I longed for someone who would take care of me, who would never abandon me, and whom I could trust with all my heart!
To some of my classmates, Miss Ritter’s big, black Bible did not attract particular attention. But to me, it became the focus of my attention, perhaps because we did not have a Bible in my home. In fact, I do not recall ever having seen a Bible until Miss Ritter introduced the class to hers.
The way my beloved teacher treasured this Book drew me to it. She treated her big, black Bible with the highest respect and demonstrated great love for what it held within its pages. Little did I realize then that her example would birth in me an abiding love for this Holy Book and a deep hunger for the Author Who wrote it.
As I look back, I recognize in Miss Ritter’s daily reading of the twenty-third Psalm the marvelous love of God for a hurting little girl. In giving me this Godly teacher, He provided me with a link to His love—a love I desperately needed.
Now, nearly seventy years later, the words of that beloved Psalm still ring in my ears. I remember little else about first grade. But I shall never forget Miss Ritter. More importantly, I shall never forget her big, black Bible. Watered by her prayers, the seed of the Word of God she planted within me during that impressionable year has taken root and, by God’s grace, has produced much fruit. The dream she inspired in me has come true. The Shepherd of Psalm 23 is now, indeed, my Shepherd!
Often, we are not fully aware of the influence we have over a child’s life. Let us always be very careful to wield that influence with a deep sense of the gravity of our responsibility, remembering Christ’s admonition in Luke 17: 2 NLT: “It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin.”
Copyright 2017 by MaryAnn Diorio, PhD. All Rights Reserved. Originally published in Rest Stops for Teachers, Broadman & Holman, 2003.
Dr. MaryAnn Diorio is a widely published, award-winning author of fiction for both children and adults. Her children’s picture book, Who Is Jesus?, was named a finalist in the Children’s Religion Category of the 2015 National Indie Excellence Awards Contest!
MaryAnn and her husband are the blessed parents of two awesome daughters and the delighted grandparents of five rambunctious grandchildren. You may learn more about MaryAnn at www.maryanndiorio.com and at www.maryanndiorioministries.com.
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