By Rev. Suzanne Wilkinson (from the September – October 2014 issue)
Have you ever wondered if perhaps God had intended you for bigger things or that perhaps your chance at leaving a mark on this world has passed you by? You were probably encouraged to dream big and to make a difference in the world. Depending on how your life has played out, you may be experiencing some disappointment as your youthful ideals clash with the realities of life and its brevity.
I’ve come to realize that chasing idealistic notions of bettering myself or the world carries the potential to direct me away from my calling in Christ. That’s because achieving big personal dreams or implementing social programs for the improvement of others really isn’t at the heart of Christianity. God redeemed us by exchanging His importance for a hidden, mostly ordinary life that culminated in a humiliating death.
Mother Teresa grasped God’s special love for littleness. While we view Mother Teresa as a spiritual celebrity who did ‘big things’ for the world, a closer look into her ministry reveals a woman who did not care for idealistic notions. It was the simple yet profound gestures of Galatians 5:22 that gave her life significance.
In the book Finding Calcutta Professor Mary Poplin reflects on the two months she spent with Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity. As a worker in the Missionary-run home, Poplin found herself immersed in a humble life most would find excruciatingly boring. A typical day for a is filled with repetitive tedious chores all necessary to meet the needs of those arriving at their doorstep.
Poplin shares: “[Mother Teresa] believed that welfare is for a purpose – an admirable one – whereas Christian love is for a person.” The Missionaries’ love for a personal God fuels them to love on a personal level. They believe that no global cause can be effective if it disregards the dignity of or does not infuse its approach towards even the most seemingly insignificant person with the qualities of Galatians 5:22 (the fruit of the Spirit). So they feed each disabled infant as if they are feeding the infant Christ. They bathe each dying man as if they are bathing the crucified Christ. They turn no one away, moving through their hours with joy when most would have given up long before out of despair.
Poplin notes that during her time with the Missionaries, she never heard a Missionary sister speak of eradicating the world of hunger. They simply fed the hungry person in front of them as they showed them gentle loving care. “The humility and clarity with which Mother Teresa understood her task was one of the most incredible things about her,” notes Poplin. “People go into teaching, nursing, politics, or business with ideas of doing revolutionary things. I once encouraged this unrealistic zeal in my students. Now I see how easily they became depressed and discouraged. Starting out with the fervour to change the world can be a quick route to discouragement. Sometimes despair is a result of thinking too highly of oneself.”
I am slowly learning to train my ‘idealist within’ to accept that a simple life of serving those around me is often God’s ideal. We can do all this within our employment context or in retirement: Live simply. Love neighbours. Show the increasingly uncommon courtesies of love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to all. Care deeply. These are all worthy goals.
Chasing ideals apart from the “smallness” of Christ can distract us from God’s will. They can blind us to meeting the immediate needs of those sitting in front of us.
Rev. Suzanne Wilkinson is a wife of 49 years, a proud mother of two grown sons and a grandmother who has had a fulfilling career as a registered nurse. She’s an ordained minister who has offered chaplaincy services in many senior retirement homes and nursing homes in the Greater Toronto Area and with Yonge Street Mission.