“No Empty Chairs,” Friend, May 1990, 36
Chase and Heston watched as Sister Lind interrupted their Primary lesson by placing an empty chair between them.
“President Benson has a family saying about chairs. Have any of you heard it?” she asked, glancing at the extra seat. When no one held up his hand, she gave the answer herself: “‘No empty chairs!’ What do you suppose President Benson means?”
When still no one responded, Sister Lind held up a picture of Jesus holding a lamb. Smiling, she continued, “Could it have something to do with our lesson on Jesus and His lost sheep?”
Sharla raised her hand hesitantly. “Is the chair missing a person, like Jesus was missing a sheep?”
Sister Lind nodded.
“That’s it, Sharla. Just as Jesus brought back His lost sheep, we’re supposed to find our friends missing from Primary and bring them back to their empty chairs.” She placed her hand on the chair between Chase and Heston. “Now, who is missing from our class? Who needs to come back and sit in this chair?”
The whole class turned to one another and mumbled just one name—“Charles.” No one dared to shout it out. They were all reluctant to talk about Charles because his mother had died only two months before.
Redheaded Charles had loved Primary, especially singing time, but he hadn’t come to church for almost three months. The empty chair in the classroom suddenly came alive with loneliness. Charles wasn’t in it, and the other children missed him.
“What can we do?” Heston asked.
“Well, Charles is what the rest of our lesson is about. We’re going to discuss what we can do for him, and then we’ll pray for help.”
The class erupted with ideas: “Let’s ask him to play baseball!” “How about inviting him to the Primary talent activity?” “Isn’t it almost time for his birthday? Why don’t we do something for his birthday?”
Sister Lind pulled out her roll and looked at the birthday list. “You’re right,” she announced. “His birthday is next Saturday.”
Jessica jumped up and suggested, “What if we took balloons and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him at his house?”
Heston and Chase pulled faces. “The balloons are OK, but do we have to sing?”
Sister Lind laughed. “Of course you’ll sing.” She smiled at Jessica and said, “That’s a fine idea.” To the whole class, she added, “I also think that while we’re there, he’d like to be invited to the Primary activity. Let’s meet at my house on Saturday at ten o’clock.”
When everyone agreed, Sister Lind looked at the empty chair again. “Before we have the closing prayer, I want to remind you to remember Charles in your individual prayers this week.”
On Saturday morning the children climbed into Sister Lind’s van and went to Charles’s home. “Before we get out,” she said, turning around in her seat, “don’t forget about the talent activity.” She winked encouragingly at Chase as she challenged him to invite Charles to it. “The rest of you must show Charles that you really want him to come,” she told them.
The balloons bobbed gaily as the children piled out of the van. Only Chase walked slowly toward the house—he was wondering how to invite Charles to the activity.
A dog bounced out the door when Charles opened it. “Look who’s here, Dad!” he shouted with a surprised look on his face. “It’s Sister Lind and my Primary class!”
“Happy birthday to you,” they chorused. “Happy birthday to you. …”
“Ar-rooo!” a strange voice joined in, unheard by all but Sister Lind. …
“Happy birthday, dear Charles. …”
This time they all heard Charles’s basset hound, Bowser, “singing” with them, his head thrown back for a full-throated sound.
“Ar-rooo-ooo!” he finished the song for them, then gave them a big doggy smile, rolling his head to one side and watching the children and Sister Lind laugh.
“Charles, Bowser likes to sing, too,” Heston shouted.
“He sure does,” Charles said, hugging his dog tightly. “He loves music as much as I do.”
Chase saw his opportunity. “Then how about singing with us for the Primary talent activity?”
The class stopped giggling at Bowser and looked expectantly at Charles. “Dad, can I?”
Charles’s dad was quiet. He just looked down at the floor. Their whole plan might have ended awkwardly right then if Heston hadn’t exploded with a fresh burst of giggles. “Hey, Charles,” he chortled, “can Bowser sing with us for the show? Do you think he’d do it?”
Bowser loved the idea! He lifted his head high and sang his loudest “Ar-roo.”
Charles’s dad lifted his head, too, and watched the happy faces of his son and his son’s friends as they again broke into helpless laughter. “Sure,” he said softly. “Maybe I’ll come too.”
During the next few weeks Charles, Bowser, and the rest of the class practiced their special act at Sister Lind’s house. Bowser enjoyed certain notes more than others, so Sister Lind played through her music until they found the song that appealed the most to him.
On Primary Talent Night, everyone’s family and friends crowded into the cultural hall. After the opening prayer, the bishop announced, “And now for a unique opening act: Sister Lind’s Valiant A class will accompany Bowser, the singing dog!”
Charles and his classmates led Bowser onto the stage, and Sister Lind stood below them. “Look across the room and tell me what you see,” she whispered.
The children looked out at the hall filled with people. Charles waved when he saw his dad sitting in the back, surrounded by Sister Lind’s family.
“No empty chairs!” Sharla told Sister Lind excitedly. “There are no empty chairs here tonight—or in our class, anymore.”
“That’s right!” Sister Lind gave them all a big smile and Bowser a pat, which made his tail wag with a thud on the stage. “Now let’s sing!”
The children’s voices rang, and so did Bowser’s. The room rocked with laughter at the hound’s musical howls. Everyone—including the children and Bowser—was having a good time. And best of all, there were no empty chairs.