My tepid old soul warmed considerably when I read the Herald-Leader's Sept. 17 story about Utha "Sally" Blackburn Deen, who passed away recently at age 108.
In addition to other good works, Deen taught Sunday school at Lexington's Calvary Baptist Church and Anchor Baptist Church for a total of 80 years, the story said.
She was teaching a dozen women at Anchor Baptist when she was 100 and, as she told a reporter in 2006, was still trying to keep it "fresh and from the heart."
I didn't have the pleasure of knowing Deen.
But I imagine she must have been widely known in heaven. I wonder if there wasn't quite a celebration when she passed through the gates up there.
The article reminded me of my grandmother, another saint gone to her own reward. She taught Baptist Sunday school classes for 40 years, as I recall.
Although Deen put in twice as many years as a teacher, they shared a central trait. Above all else you might say, you'd have to describe them as faithful. And faithfulness is a mighty virtue.
Fortunately, it doesn't require any special talent or physical attractiveness or intellectual brilliance. It just requires that we keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.
We live in a time and culture in which faithfulness seems to have fallen out of favor. It's almost scorned.
In our careers, we Americans tend to hop from employer to employer — just as employers also downsize workers on a whim. We marry, divorce, remarry, cheat, divorce again. We see a shocking number of people who won't even faithfully take care of the kids they brought into the world, who abandon them to exes, grandparents or the state.
We change churches — or religions — anytime the minister preaches something we happen not to agree with or some nitwit on the worship committee hurts our feelings.
We appear unwilling to stick anything out.
When the going gets tough, we get the heck out of town.
That's too bad. Largely, life consists of one tough situation followed, sooner or later, by another, tougher situation. If we flee every time an obstacle arises that frustrates or humiliates or appalls us, we end up missing life.
At least we miss out on becoming genuine adults. By that, I mean we never become the type of grownups who know how to overcome most problems and how to cope with those we can't overcome.
We also miss getting to see God occasionally grant us a miraculous fix or two.
Being a minister, I tend to think of faithfulness in terms of our spiritual walk, although it applies to every arena of life, from work to sports to romance.
In the Bible, Jesus is a huge fan of the faithful.
He says things such as, "It is the one who endures to the end who will be delivered," and, "Be faithful all the way to death, and I'll give you the crown of life." Stuff like that. He doesn't have much good to say to those who melt away.
There are numerous reasons why faithfulness is so valuable.
Consider Deen and my grandmother. Or for that matter, anybody who teaches Sunday school for decades.
If you teach Sunday school for 80 years, or 40 years, or probably even 20 years, you'll experience just about every variety of calamity and irritation and goodness.
You'll serve under the administrations of pastors who are benevolent and encouraging, and pastors who are dismissive and demanding.
You'll see class members embrace your lessons and joyfully enlarge their own relationships with the Lord. They'll hug you, thank you and pray for you.
You'll face class members who say you're an illiterate clown with no business standing behind a lectern, that their sister/mother/best friend ought to be the teacher.
You'll teach when you're recovering from a cold and should be home in bed nursing a mug of hot tea, but can't find a substitute.
You'll teach the morning after you discover your unwed daughter is pregnant or your son has been kicked out of school or your family farm is bankrupt.
You'll do this week after week, year after year. For free. Just because you feel called to it and you love God and you want to serve your fellow churchgoers.
Often it will be great fun. Sometimes it will be absolute hell.
But over the decades, as you keep at it, you'll find your spine growing stronger and stronger. Troubles and troublemakers won't frighten you the way they once did.
You'll discover the blessings quitters can never know. You'll make equally faithful friends who are closer to you than your kin. You'll experience and absorb the ongoing history of your own small place.
You'll finally realize that, all those years you were being faithful to the Lord, he was proving himself even more faithful to you. As you were teaching others, he was teaching you. You offered the little you had, and he returned it to you countless times over, with more yet to come, world without end.