Saturday, September 12, 2009

"You're Better Than Nothing"

I know I can be very self-deprecating. I have visions of grandeur and of course the vision never matches up with what really happens. In my younger days I use to get so down on myself. One little bobble could fester and lead me into the depths of despair. It's that glass half empty, half full thing. I unfortunately and often see things as half empty, but I have this little mental trick I use to turn myself around. I tell myself, "You're better than nothing!" Now that doesn't sound like much - BETTER THAN NOTHING, but I envision that without my doings, there would be nothing. I try to look at my positive impact instead of what went wrong.

So when I'm asked at the last minute to play the piano to accompany a hymn and hit what seems to me a gazillion clinkers; instead of being devastated by it all, I just say, "I'm better than nothing!" When I get asked to sing and forget the words or miss a note; I just say, "It was better than nothing!" I say those words with great confidence for I know Satan would love to have me down and out.

I took a painting class at our local college a few years ago. I was feeling discouraged because I couldn't reproduce what I saw in my mind onto the canvas. My instructor, Mr. Glen Knowles, was an outstanding teacher. He saw my discouragement and frustration and simply said, "You need to get over it!" I so admired his work and at first thought he couldn't understand where I was coming from, but he assured me that he had never really painted anything exactly the way he saw it in his mind. I thought about that. I knew I was learning and progressing. Painting a masterpiece in the beginning is really unthinkable. I related his comment to my own experience with piano. More than once I have had to encourage a piano student who was discouraged because they weren't measuring up or playing like they wanted to.

The parable of the talents is a great guide in showing what happens if we don't utilize what we have been given, the servant said, "I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth." Those who become downcast or afraid become stifled. Their talents then lay hidden, locked away, and eventually lost.

Admittedly, my BETTER THAN NOTHING theory is not perfect in providing me an escape from discouragement. Case in point, I've been subbing nearly everyday since school started this year. The more I have substituted the more confident I have become though some days are better than others when it comes to my effectiveness in the classroom. With my one-day appearance I'd like to think I'll have an incredible influence in the lives of all the children in my class. The reality is I might make a dent here or there in the life of a child as we pace through a hopefully educational day.

This week I found myself in a classroom of severely handicapped 4th and 5th graders. There were 14 children, all present. All I found was a brief outline on the desk to guide me through the day. I immediately quizzed the four para-educators I would be working with. I soon realized I was the substitute for the substitute. These children had had two different substitutes in the last two weeks and I entered the classroom as number three. Doing the math, I surmised that this class had only been functioning for two weeks before, whatever the reason, the teacher was gone for the next two weeks. With it being a brand new school, a new school year, and whatever other reasons; the guidance I was hoping for from my helpers was very limited. I could see in their eyes they were definitely looking to me for support. Happily about a third of the class recognized me from previous subbing encounters the year before and they were happy to see me.

I don't know how that class is really supposed to run, but with my limited knowledge and a prayer in my heart; I put a smile on my face and jumped in. Yes, I had some initial anxiety wondering what to do next, but I moved forward and felt the peace of the Spirit. The other adults were quick to follow my lead. I certainly appreciated their help. I couldn't have done it without them. I had a parent come in to observe the class for part of the day and I had to deal with some behavior you wouldn't find in a "normal" classroom, but I know I was guided.

After school I sat alone writing my report and pondering. I wondered if I had made a difference? Did I look like the latest dog and pony show with my reading antics and singing production? Or had I been a viable teacher for these students? I couldn't say for sure; I had been left with so little to go on. As I evaluated my day, one of the para-educators stepped back into the room. She had been out fulfilling her responsibility of walking some of the children to the bus. She stood at the door and thoughtfully and quietly said, "I wanted to tell you . . . It was a pleasure working with you today. You really ought to leave your number. You're the best substitute we've ever had." I'm sure I had a surprised look on my face, but I also had a great sense of relief flow through me as I heard her words. I sincerely thanked her and finished my report, which always includes my sub number and phone numbers.

Now repeat after me:
"You're better than nothing.
You're better than nothing.

You're better than nothing."
And it really helps when someone says you did a great job.

"There is no effect
more disproportionate to its cause
than the happiness
bestowed by a small compliment."


"I can live for two months
on a good compliment."

There is not doubt,
I'm so thankful!


  1. I really needed this. I am often too afraid and hide my own talents - for fear of not being successful. Thanks for your insights. No really, I needed this.

  2. "no Should'ves." That was my little mental trick as a missionary(and still) when I would get frustrated at my actions or lack of them. I can ruin a whole day/week/ month with "I should have done this" or "I shouldn't have done that". I quickly repeat "No Should'ves" so that i can move on. So wonderful to know that someone else feels inadequate sometimes. It is so easy to think I am the only one

  3. Martha you are a blessing to all you come in contact with!!! Have a great day, smiles Danette

  4. I just love you Martha. So glad to be your little brother. You are that light on a hill that can not be hidden. I can't think of one day in my life that was not made better just by knowing you. You're the BEST!!!!

  5. You're my "humble hero" Love ya!

  6. Martha, I think you are totally awesome! You bring a special spirit with you everywhere you go. I miss being your VT companion and getting a regular dose of your goodness. Love you!