Learning Empathy and Encouragement From First Graders

First Graders

Last Sunday in an NFL wild card game, the Minnesota Vikings lost a heart breaker to the Seattle Seahawks 10-9. It was a classic case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

With only 26 seconds left in the game, Blair  Walsh, one of the best kickers in the league, had a golden opportunity to be the hero by kicking a 27 yard field goal, a chip shot in the NFL. Instead, he became the goat.

His kick missed. Badly. And all Seattle had to do was run out the clock for a 1 point victory.

Afterwards a demoralized Walsh sat in front of his locker in disbelief. While replays showed the holder could have done a better job, Walsh bravely told reporters, “I have no idea what happened. But I can tell you this, it’s my fault.”

This prompted first grade teacher, Judie Offerdale, at Northpointe Elementary School in Blaine, MN, who is ironically a Seahawks fan, to use this as a teaching opportunity for her class. The students had been learning about empathy in class, so she thought it would be a good way to put it into practice by writing letters of encouragement to Walsh, a professional athlete they don’t even know. Alex Rice assured him everyone makes mistakes. “I had missed a basket before.”

“Dear Blair Walsh, I know that it can be hard to get through things that are sad, but you have to try and try again. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. One time I made a mistake when I was doing a cart-wheel. I felt embarrassed. You can still help the Vikings win the Super Bowl next year. Your fan, Sophia Doffin.”

Jacob DePoint empathized by sharing “One time I had the same problem as you and we lost the divisional playoffs,” he wrote. “You rock.”

And then William Ofori tried to cheer up Walsh by writing, “You are handsome. … Don’t worry. It’s just a game.”

In a day when the sports stories sometimes turn ugly after a loss or even a win, this is a refreshing change. Ms. Offerdale and the students are to be commended. They serve as a lesson for all of us.

The Bible exhorts us, “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (1 Pet 3:9)

Sympathy involves compassion . Empathy. Understanding. It really does feel the pain of another. It is a quality that Jesus showed in his interaction with the sick, suffering and downcast of His day. It is the attitude that His disciples should demonstrate toward those who are hurting.

Empathy should issue itself in encouragement. The Bible often speaks of the need and importance of encouragement. “Encourage one another and build each other up…” (1 Thess. 5:11). “Encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (I Thess 5:14). “Encourage one another daily…” (Heb 3:14).

Feeling empathy for the heart-broken and then pouring courage into their souls by our actions, attitudes and words is a needed ministry in a world that is too often cold and calloused.

By the way, Blair Walsh was so touched by these kids’ kind words that he’s visiting their class today. Kudos to the embarrassed kicker. His response is also worth emulating.

Wouldn’t you love to be in that classroom today? I imagine a lot of learning will occur.  And not just from school books.

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman


Filed under Discipline, Encouragement

2 responses to “Learning Empathy and Encouragement From First Graders



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  2. Pingback: Weekly Recap: January 9-13 | ThePreachersWord

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