Monday, March 2, 2009

The face before me

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. – Mark 10:43–44 (NIV)

I’ve always felt drawn to Mother Teresa. Perhaps because when I was born my mother wanted to name me “Teresa.” My father objected, so “Teresa” became my middle name.

Perhaps it’s because I’d lie in bed at night and dream of going to a poor country and helping others when I grew up. In college, I looked into the Peace Corps.

But my mission field was not a foreign country, although I still long to go. My mission field has been my family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and all with whom I come in contact every day, from face-to-face contact to telephone to email.

The news these days can be pretty disheartening for someone like me, who wants to make a difference on a big scale. Few have that opportunity. I was going to write “Few have that privilege,” but God nudged me. A small ministry isn’t any less important to Him as the biggest, splashiest, flashiest ones. Serving backstage, in the forgotten wildernesses of life, is just as valuable.

Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to Mother Teresa. She didn’t set out to be famous, win a Nobel Prize, write a book, establish the Missionaries of Charity, become a saint, although she accomplished all that and more. Her vision was simple: to ease the pain of the sick and dying in the most destitute, most forsaken place on earth—the streets of a city teeming with poverty, disease and death.

She could have felt overwhelmed by the gigantic task she faced—the sheer number of those who were lying on the filthy streets of Calcutta. But rather than adopt a doom-and-gloom perspective, she chose another strategy.

“With so many poor people,” someone once asked her, “how do you keep from feeling overwhelmed because you can’t help them all?”

“I focus on the face before me,” she replied.

What faces are before me today? In my world—my itsy, bitsy, tiny, wee corner of the world—whose hand can I hold? Whose face can I light up with a smile, a card, a word of encouragement, a hug? Who can I spend time with just listening?

I don’t have to look far. Everyone’s hurting in some way. We hide our pain behind laughter, jokes, meanness. The person who acts like a porcupine with its quills out is the very one you need to get closer to. Soften the barbs with kindness, love and a Jesus attitude. Be Jesus to them.

Picture yourself in the middle of a circle—your world, your circle of influence. Now picture other circles, neighborhood by neighborhood, town by town, county by county, state by state—imagine circles all over the US and the world—and in the middle of each circle is not the big guy, the famous guy, the rich one—but the little guy, like you and me, doing what he can to make life easier for the face before him, one face at a time.

Dear God, when I’m feeling insignificant and overwhelmed, remind me that You have not called me to be successful—You have called me to be faithful. Help me to be faithful and focus on the face before me. Amen.

Special-Tea: Read Luke 10:30–37

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