The other day when I left the coffee shop and headed back to the ‘burbs, I drove through the neighborhoods of the city. It was like being in another world, yet it was only miles from where we live and work. Today I just felt compelled one more time to drive through. I figured out if you go up to one of the main roads that borders my neighborhood, it is a straight shot to the city (and incidentally leads directly to that same coffee shop) So I took the long way to work.
I am beginning to see the value in having your eyes opened to the ways and places that others live. It broadens your perspective on the human experience. Being a Christian and one who has been set apart to encourage and equip other Christians, seeing thousands of homes makes me feel overwhelmed. There are so many people in need. How can we possibly make a difference? And it’s not just folks in low economic areas. As I told my boss the other day – the only difference between folks in these lower-income neighborhoods and our own communities is people in our communities have nicer houses. Who knows what is really going on behind the front door.
But getting back to the overwhelming sense that there’s no way we can help all these people, I’m reminded of what I read in Irresistible Revolution. The following is from Shane Claiborne talking about his summer serving with Mother Teresa.
Sometimes folks with medical training would come by and be overwhelmed with frustration because we had so few medical supplies, and the sisters would hastily explain that our mission was not to prolong life but to help people die well. As Mother Teresa would say (telling the old story about throwing starfish back into the ocean even though they continue to line the beach in thousands), “We are called not to be successful but to be faithful.” That sounds good but it was the beginning of my years of struggling with the tension between efficiency and faithfulness. I remembered Gandhi’s saying that what we are doing may seem insignificant, but it is most important that we do it. So we did.
While the temptation to do great things is always before us, in Khalighat I learned the discipline of doing small things with great deliberation. Mother Teresa used to say, “We can do no great things, just small things with great love. It is not how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it.” Just as Andy would reprimand people for using too much soap when washing dishes (we mixed ashes with the soap to multiply it), I also heard many a volunteer scolded for not putting enough gravy on the rice, since the plate was being served to Jesus himself.
So with that, I’m reminded to love those who are already around me. If we all love a few people, then it’s not so overwhelming. And those few people will soon enough begin to love others as well.