My husband was a music teacher at a public school with a program for children with autism. Many of these children did not speak and would not sing or dance the way other children would. Music is often a positive way to introduce language and motor skills for children, so he used what skills and tools he’d picked up from the speech language pathologists and occupational therapists and made them work in his music lessons. There were lots of clapping and patsching lessons. He taught many of the same rhyming songs he taught other children, though he was usually the only one singing.
For weeks, his classes were much the same - he would lead the lesson with very little obvious engagement from the children. He was not trained to teach children with autism specifically, so he just kept adapting and trying new approaches, hoping something would catch. He was often discouraged that there seemed no signs that his students were gaining much from his lessons.
At report card night that year, one of the parents of a student with autism approached him and told him what a difference music class made in her child’s life. He suppressed his shock and said he was glad to hear it. The parent went on to say that her child often sang the songs and clapped at dinner time and bedtime on the days they had music class.
My husband never saw this behavior from his students in class, but it wasn’t because his lessons were not engaging or that the students weren’t paying attention. It was just that his students were processing the material when he was teaching. It was only later that they would be able to perform it themselves. No lesson was lost on them.
When I hear the parable of the sower, I think about how much work goes into sowing every seed. Sowing seeds on the path, on the rocky ground, among thorns, and in the good soil. Every kind of sowing takes effort, care, and patience. It would seem that only the good soil reaps any fruit, but that’s not entirely true.
The seed on the path was not wasted. The birds benefited. The soil on the rocks didn’t grow much, but if it had, would the rocks have become destabilized? Would they fall over? The seeds among the thorns did not sprout, but who wants weeds among their roses? None of the seed was “wasted.” It all had a purpose and it was all necessary. We are not always aware of the impact our efforts have.
It will be rare that you see the positive outcomes of loving your neighbor. You may never see the outcome of feeding the hungry or clothing the naked or caring for the sick. You may never know what good it does to share Good News. We do these things because every action, no matter how small, repairs a tear in the fabric of our world. Each repair adds up to more than we can know - and it is okay not to know.