How Mrs. Mays Got Her Four-Year-Olds to Listen

by Andy Wood on December 9, 2011

in Enlarging Your Capacity, Five LV Laws, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Increase, Turning Points, Words

Jackie Mays was a legend.  Maybe not everywhere, but certainly in some of the circles we roamed in when our kids were small.  And to a couple of four-year-old twin girls, Mrs. Mays was larger than life.

Sending your kids off to school for the first time is a big adjustment.  Especially when they’re your oldest, and they’re the ripe old age of four.  Enter Mrs. Mays.  Not only was she a faithful member of our church in Birmingham, she was one of the K-4 teachers at Grace Christian School.  And a legendary gift she was, to both parents and their little darlings.

“Daddy, Mrs. Mays says…”

“Daddy, that’s not how Mrs. Mays…”

In Mrs. Mays’ class they learned the basics of reading and writing and that other “r.”  They learned the pledges and the Star-Spangled Banner. (Cassie used to come home with that wistful, “I just love America.”)  They learned to love God’s word, and learned the gospel and about heaven and hell and the price Jesus paid to snatch us from the one to take us to the other.  And they had fun learning it all.

There were no assistants, aides, or volunteers.  Just one amazing woman and a room full of four-year-olds, who most days sat mesmerized or did what was expected.

I want to tell you one of her not-so-secret secrets. It’ s one of the things that made Jackie Mays a teaching artist who could capture and hold the attention of her students. It was revolutionary to me at the time.

If you were talking and nobody was paying attention, and what you had to say was important, what would you do?  If you’re like most people, including every teacher I’d ever had, you’d raise the volume.  Say it a little louder.  Emphasize a little stronger.  Start naming names.  Yell if you must.

But even a four-year-old instinctively knows, as Seth Godin recently pointed out, “yelling is a waste of time, regardless of how urgent the issue is.”

When Jackie wanted her class to listen, she turned herself down.  Quieter.  Almost whispering.  Not mumbling, mind you.  Clearly, energetically, passionately… she got soft.  And like clockwork, it worked.  Kids leaned in.  Got still.  Listened.  Seth Godin again:

Have you ever encountered a really stressed, undertrained gate agent at an airport? She starts yelling into the microphone, strangling her words and insisting, demanding and EMPHASIZING just how urgent it is that David Johnson come to the gate immediately…

It doesn’t work, because we shut her out. Like a toddler ignoring his ever more insistent parent, it’s so easy to turn off the yelling. Just as we ignore the all caps emails, the flashing banner ad and the sirens in New York.

On the other hand, Seth says, “Whispering piques our interest and demands our attention.”   Jackie Mays was a genius at it.

And so is God.

Remember the time Elijah had just about had it?  Burned out, given out, and called out by a woman who was a real Jezebel, he just wanted to die.  Remember what God did to reset his bearings? Standing in the mouth of a cave, past an earthquake and a whirlwind, Elijah finally heard the voice of God again… whispering.

You and I want God to yell it out.  We want loud answers, clarion calls, roaring solutions, handwriting in the sky.  And what’s scary to me… how many of us would have been content with the noise and the outward displays, even though they lacked the true voice of God?

But the problem is, humans are uniquely talented to filter out the loudness.  And you’re no exception.

So… when God really wants to get your attention, He lowers His volume.  Silent.  Holy. Calm.  Still.  Peaceful.

Manger stuff.

Have you wondered lately why God seems so quiet?  I think there’s a reason.  He has something to say, and He doesn’t intend to mumble.  But He does intend to be heard.  And noisy hearts can’t hear on that level.  So He waits for you to get some things out of your system.

The exhaustion.

The discouragement.

The rants.

The busy.

The noise – even good noise.   (Reminder:  The angel armies shouted out in the fields where the shepherds were.  But the real glory of God in the highest was resting back in town in a feeding trough.)

Even the miracles and big displays of power.

He waits for you to be still and know.  To listen for the whisper.

In all her ways of pointing my children to an educated, Jesus-filled life, that may have been Mrs. Mays’ greatest legacy.  She taught them to listen for the whisper.

In the past, God spoke to our people through the prophets. He spoke at many times. He spoke in different ways. But in these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son. He is the one whom God appointed to receive all things. God made everything through him. The Son is the gleaming brightness of God’s glory. He is the exact likeness of God’s being. He uses his powerful word to hold all things together. He provided the way for people to be made pure from sin. Then he sat down at the right hand of the King, the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:1-4, NIRV).

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren Oliver December 17, 2011 at 9:40 am

Wow Professor!

The Lord used you fantastically in this post! I’m a new pre K teacher and I have been looking for ways to control my kids when things get crazy. Your example of Teacher Jackie and her genius was nothing short of God. I’m glad I read your blogs when He told me to 🙂

Andy Wood December 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Hi Lauren,

Thanks. Yes, she was God-gifted in amazing ways. Thanks for the encouragement.

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