I sat in the back of the classroom in a green metal chair, just small enough that my knees bent at an uncomfortable angle. The room hummed with the morning activity of students unloading backpacks, turning in homework and making their lunch selections on the white board. I waited patiently for my morning assignment. For the past few years I’ve volunteered weekly in my kids’ classrooms. I’m chief encourager/cheerleader/prodder. My assignments vary week to week based on what the teacher needs most.
On this morning, the teacher stopped in the midst of the organized chaos to talk with a boy sitting at a desk in the back row. Her voice was low enough that I just barely heard the conversation over the classroom chatter.
“Did you eat breakfast this morning?” She leaned her palms on the desk and bent to look directly in the boy’s eyes.
He turned his eyes down, and I barely discerned his head shake no.
“Are you hungry?” She bent down just a little more to look into his eyes again. The boy didn’t move or respond. She asked again, “Are you hungry? Would you like some breakfast?”
He looked up briefly and shook his head up and down.
Still leaning on her palms on the desk, the teacher looked just over his brown hair to where I was sitting and asked, “Mrs. Rhodes, will you please take him to the cafeteria and see if he can have some breakfast?”
I swallowed the rock in my throat and replied in a tone belying my shaky emotions, “I would love to.”
My heels clicked down the hallway as we walked side-by-side to the cafeteria. I made idle chatter, and the boy had yet to say a word. “Let’s see what they have. I’m sure they probably have some cereal and yogurt.”
He sighed, his shoulders slumping. All his movements were small, as if he feared taking up too much space. “I don’t feel good.”
“Oh no.” My heels paused as I turned to look at him. “Is it your stomach?”
He sighed again. “Yeah.” He squinted his eyes just before turning his head away from me.
“Do you think you’re sick, or is it because you’re hungry?”
I forced the rock down my throat again. “Maybe getting some food will help it feel better. That usually helps my stomach in the mornings.”
We walked into the silent cafeteria, and I found a friendly women with a plastic cap on her head and gloves on her hands setting up the counter for lunch.
“Good morning!” I said, trying to make my voice extra chipper. The woman looked up surprised and eyeing the child with me. “The teacher sent me down with our friend to see if we could find him some breakfast.”
Her look of question transformed to understanding. “Oh let me check to see what we can do.” She smiled at the boy as she stepped back into the kitchen. Seconds later, she came back with a tray. Looking our little friend in the eye she asked his name and invited him to take from the rows of cereal and pointed to the cooler where he could find juice and yogurt.
We sat at a long brown picnic style table, and he opened a pack of graham crackers.
“Those are my favorite when my stomach isn’t feeling good,” I said.
He sighed and ripped the plastic open. He nibbled on a cracker for a minute before poking his straw through the foil on the juice cup.
“I need to head back to the classroom. Will you be ok?” I asked. He nodded his head.
As I walked back to the classroom I silently thanked God for teachers who recognize needs that children do not or cannot voice. I have no idea how in the midst of the chaotic room with a couple other dozen students that she knew this particular child was hungry that morning. But she was alert and aware. Her question, “Are you hungry?” reverberated in my head for days.
As we walk through our daily lives, hungry people surround us. Some of them are physically hungry and haven’t had a decent meal in weeks. Some of them are emotionally starved for someone to love them for who they are, to recognize and call out their great worth. Others are spiritually hungry, craving something to fill a giant hole that life has torn through their soul.
Do you have eyes to see and ears to hear what others aren’t saying? As you walk out the door, ask God to direct you to someone who might need encouragement or a specific need met that day. If you’re fiddling with your phone or your computer all day, your eyes won’t be on the people around you. You might walk right past someone, a stranger even, who needs a smile, who needs someone to say hello and make their day a little brighter. That cashier might just need someone to recognize that she is not a U-scan machine. She is a person with a family and a history and you can be the one to make her workday a little better. Ask God to help you see and hear what isn’t obvious.
Maybe you’ve had someone on your mind for a few days. Call them. Send them a letter. Invite them to coffee.
Will you have eyes to see? Will you have courage to ask, “Are you hungry?” Will you slow down enough to see the needs that surround you every day? Then will you speak up and offer to listen and help?