Mother Teresa tells the story of an elderly Aborigine man who was in dire straits. Totally ignored by everyone, he lived in a dirty, disorderly house when she first met him. She offered to clean his house and wash his clothes, but his reply was, “I am okay like this. Let it be.” However, after persisting, Mother Teresa was able to convince him that cleaning would make him feel better.
During her work, she came upon a beautiful lamp covered in dust. She asked when he had last lit it. His response was that there had been no need to light it. No one ever visited. She promised him that the sisters would come every evening to light it and visit if he so desired. He agreed, and the sisters kept their end of the bargain.
Mother Teresa continued her travels, and two years later she received a message from the man she admitted she had long ago forgotten. He relayed through the sisters this thought, “Tell my friend that the light she lit in my life continues to shine still.” In writing her story, Mother Teresa commented, “I thought it was a small thing. We often neglect small things.”
That beautiful story resonated in my heart; I reread it three times, the third time to my 7-year-old granddaughter. It illustrates the simplicity and the truth of being Christ in the world and reminds me of another one of her famous quotes, “We do not have to do great things, only small things with great love.”
My lifelong friend Theresa has innately understood this concept all her adult life. Each time one of our children was born, on her godson Andrew’s birthday, or for our children’s graduations and weddings or a family funeral, Theresa arrives a few days early. Driving from Indy, she announces, “The kitchen is mine,” or “I will straighten up the bathroom. You do what you need to do.”
What new or busy mother doesn’t appreciate someone organizing behind the scenes when a whirlwind of activity ensues all around? And she does it cheerfully, quietly and without fully recognizing how her simple acts of kindness and caring have such a calming effect in an otherwise heightened situation.
My husband and I have been the recipients of many thoughtful acts from a neighbor or friend that have brought us joy. We have arrived home from vacations to find our grass mowed, a homecooked meal in our refrigerator, the cat still alive and the plants watered. My wonderful friend Barb often invited me over for a delicious meal to celebrate my birthday. My sister showed up with her famous shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate in wedding motif to kick off the festivities for our daughter and her goddaughter’s wedding. The list is long, and the heartfelt memories created still bring smiles.
On the other hand, we have all been reminded of a kindness we performed that we have long-ago forgotten. However, like the Aborigine man, the persons (like us) on the receiving end hold that memory fondly in their hearts as a reminder that someone took time from their busy life to let us know that we were important.
Isn’t that what we all want in life, to know that we matter to the people and the world around us? Yes, we have been taught and our faith reminds us that God loves every one of us always. But even if we believe that, we, like Thomas, on occasion need to see the tangible evidence of that love. That is what Christ asks of us every day to shine a simple light of love in someone’s world. Light our lamp and then go out and light our neighbors, one kind word or act at a time.
What do people often respond when helped or complimented? “You lightened my load. You brightened my day.” How appropriate are those words, brighten and lighten. Both are the results of acting as Christ, the Light of the world, to our brothers and sisters present in our lives. Let’s dust our lamps off and shine for all to see. It’s the small things that make lasting impressions.