By: Therese Benz
Do you know what’s really hard?
Intentionally loving people in the mundane day-to-day, and trying to remember that loving them is loving Jesus.
It’s so funny, because that has been one of my ideal priorities for a very long time now, but I get discouraged sometimes. On a decent number of days, but especially on the days when I am tired or stressed or feel worn out, it is so, so hard to look beyond myself and really try to love each and every person I encounter the way I know Jesus wants me to. This summer, though, I had an amazing moment of grace which transformed how I think about striving to love other people.
This past summer I got to spend six weeks in Newark, New Jersey living and serving with the Missionaries of Charity (who are also known as Mother Teresa’s sisters). I was helping with their summer camp which serves the underprivileged children from the neighborhood, so I spent each week praying with the sisters, organizing crafts and snacks for the camp, and playing with the kids. There were so many amazing moments! The group I got to work with was the 4, 5 and 6-year-old girls, and let me tell you: you have never seen anyone as cute as these girls. I got to play jump rope and sing with them and laugh with them, and we even got to go to the Bronx zoo for a day. Beyond just the kids, seeing how radically the sisters love and serve was astounding—it was so incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring.
But guess what? It was really hard too! Each day was pretty exhausting even with a lot of sleep, and by the third and fourth week it was really challenging to try and do the same thing just as lovingly as I had done it the first week. All of the novelty had worn away—I had done service trips for a week or two weeks before, but at that point it wasn’t new and exciting anymore: it had become like the day-to-day. However, that actually turned out to be one of the biggest blessings because I learned the most from it!
Before I got to Newark, I had thought that spending my summer with the Missionaries of Charity was going to change my life because it was so different from everything I had ever done before. And it did change my life! But not because it was so different from my average day-to-day, but because it was so similar to my day-to-day, since it wasn’t super exciting and fun all of the time. It became challenging, but learning to love through and in the “average-ness” of it is exactly what made it so much easier to come back and keep on loving in the day-to-day-ness and the mundane at home.
There was one particular moment when it hit me so clearly. Mother Teresa and St. Therese of Lisieux both talk about doing small things with great love, and I have heard that a lot before and thought I understood, but it never truly clicked until this one moment in Newark. All of the little girls loved playing this one little hand clapping game, and so they would ask me and the other volunteers to play it A LOT. I had probably done it about twenty times this one afternoon, when this little girl named Leslie asked me to play it with her yet again. I’ll be honest, I really wanted to make an excuse and sit down somewhere in the shade or something and just take a break because I felt pretty tired that day. Then it hit me in the face: if I played the game with Leslie, I would be handing a flower to Jesus. After realizing that, I was actually happy to play the game with Leslie— isn’t it always so much easier to serve someone that you love? It becomes a joy to serve them, never a drudgery.
That’s why it is so much easier to do something when you are doing it for Christ, when that moment is transformed into you getting to hand him a flower because you love Him. I love that image so much because it’s exactly like being a tiny little child and looking at up this person we love SO MUCH and being so happy to do this tiny little thing to show them that we love them. I think this is what Jesus was talking about when he was explaining what would happen on the last days, and He is telling the sheep that they gave him food when He was hungry or drink when He was thirsty, and they were like, ‘When did we do that??’ and Jesus says, “The King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). We truly are serving and loving Christ when we serve and love the little ones around us.
Based on my sheer strength and the power of my will, there are days when I do not have the motivation to push past my grumpiness or exhaustion or shyness or self-centeredness to truly love others. I just don’t. But the good news is that the Lord does not expect that of me! He is the one who provides the grace and the strength to love others! And by His grace, when He helps me to change my perception of those moments to understanding them as chances to show Him how much I love Him, suddenly every day (even those hard ones!) is filled with simple, joyful opportunities to tell the One I love that I love Him.
So let’s look around within our day-to-days with our families, at school, with our friends, at Beloved, and let Him transform the way we see these average moments in our lives, so that we can see all of them as opportunities to hand flowers to to our beloved King!