Decades ago, as she was walking on the streets of London one day, Mother Teresa saw a man who was was quite drunk. He looked—in her words—”so sad and miserable.”
Mother Teresa walked right up to him, took his hand, and shook it.
“How are you?” she asked.
“Oh!” he replied. “After so long I feel the warmth of a human hand!”
After she took the man’s hand, “his face lit up. And his face was different,” Mother says in the book Mother Teresa: My Life for the Poor.
“I only want to say,” she continues, “that small things, done in great love, bring joy and peace.”
Lightening a Stranger’s Load
As I waited in a long line at a grocery store recently, a young woman came up behind me carrying a load of groceries in her arms. She didn’t have a cart, and her arms were very full. She stood uncomfortably, shifting her feet. Then the customer in line behind her spoke up.
“Here,” invited the customer kindly. “Rest that on my buggy.”
“Thanks,” the woman said with a sigh of relief as she balanced the groceries she was holding across the edge of the stranger’s cart.
“You’re welcome. I could tell that was heavy,” replied the other customer. With smiles on both of their faces, the two women began talking as they waited in line.
As I put my groceries on the belt, I thought about the charity that customer had shown with one simple act—the charity that I sometimes unwittingly neglect to show. How often am I lost in my own world when I’m shopping, unaware of the needs of the people around me? While I was focused on my own cart, this customer saw that young woman behind me struggling, and in an instant reached out to help her. She saw the load she was carrying and quickly found a way to lighten it.
“Bear one another’s burdens,” Galatians 6:2 says. With one small gesture, this customer reached out to a stranger and lived those words.
A Benevolent Gift
A few weeks later, I was in the freezer aisle at a different grocery store with my children, when an older gentleman came up beside us. As he wandered up and down the aisle, he smiled at my children, and my maternal heart was warmed by his silent appreciation for them.
Then, still smiling, the man approached me and held up a ten-dollar bill.
“My wife just hit a number,” he said quietly, “and I just cashed it in. It wasn’t much, but I’d like the children to have this. Maybe they can get something they want.”
“Thank you,” I replied in surprise. As looked at his face, my heart told me not to refuse this kind offer. I could see the joy dancing in his kind, gentle eyes. It brought him happiness to give this gift to my children, and I didn’t want to deny him that joy.
He tucked the bill into my palm, nodded, and walked away, still smiling.
“Thank you,” my children called out to him as we parted ways.
I wanted to call after him, to express my gratitude better, to somehow let him know how much his kindness had moved me—but he waved goodbye without a backwards glance. Expecting nothing of us in return, he didn’t even stay to see the children’s delight in picking out flavors of ice cream to buy with the gift he gave them. His gesture was entirely benevolent.
The Radiance of Love
By the world’s standards, Mother Teresa had not done much for that sad, miserable man on the streets of London. She had only put her warm hand in his and asked how he was. But that small gesture had affected him so deeply that it altered his entire appearance. Mother’s little act of great love was reflected in this man’s face. And it was radiant.
The woman in line behind me at the grocery store looked different, too, after the customer behind her saw the load she was carrying and tried, in a small and thoughtful way, to lift it. When she had first gotten in line behind me, the woman had seemed tired and stressed. But now, resting her groceries on the other customer’s cart, she smiled and chatted with her newfound friend. That small act of love had made a visible difference in her countenance.
My face changed, too, after that dear man had shared his lottery winnings with my children. His generosity made me smile. It gave me a renewed sense of the goodness of people—and of the goodness of God, from whom comes every good and perfect gift (cf. James 1:17). Because of him, I left the grocery store with a joy I hadn’t come in with.
“How are you?”
“Rest that on my buggy.”
“I’d like the children to have this.”
Such small, simple sentences. Such beautiful, meaningful expressions of love.
May God grant all of us the eyes to see others as He does, and the ability to do the small things that show His great love to the world.