A couple of days ago, I helped walk a dog with a lady who's very much an activist. We had never met, and so she asked me questions about my life. I got to learn about her life, too. She asked me about future plans, and I said I would like my next endeavor to really open up my heart.
It would be blind and ungrateful of me to not recognize and give thanks for the love I feel for others now and have felt in the past. There are certain people I am just endeared to, and I want to support them with energy and love. But I guess that old vice named Comparison has crept into my brain again. (By the way, "Comparison is the death of joy.") When I look at the awe-inspiring examples of Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr., I feel like I should love more than I do. I even regularly wear a necklace inspired by the words of Mother Teresa: "Do small things with great love."
I admit that I am a naturally selfish person. I think most of us are. And if not selfish, then ego-centric. We worry about what we will do next, what will happen to us, and what to plan for in our lives. But how often do I plan to serve others? That might be the first step for me--consciously making an effort to search outside of myself for someone to show love to. With the aforementioned Greats, love was part of their being, and I eventually want to reach that level, where love inspires everything I do.
What I think makes me a little unique is that I feel I have a lack of universal compassion. It is hard for me to put myself in other people's shoes. I have a hard time connecting with people. When I see a commercial for international children's help, I don't immediately have the compassion that my mother or sister have, for example, of feeling pain for them.
As I am reading a book about Mother Teresa, some questions come into my mind, questions that I'm afraid to ask to other people, lest I should be looked down upon for feeling this way.
- What is poverty, really? Consider this for a moment.
- Is poverty not living like the middle class of the United States?
- Is it only not being able to provide for the necessities?
- What is our role in alleviating poverty?
- Can it be eradicated?
- What about poverty that's not monetary? Many poor people are actually rich in spirit.
- Am I supposed to feel a desire to alleviate all suffering?
- Isn't suffering necessary to teach us valuable lessons, lessons that we otherwise could not learn with all our needs taken care of?
- Is it because I have had every need satisfied in my upbringing that I feel that some suffering could actually do me good?
- And what of the work of the sister missionaries of Calcutta? What if the recipients of their service are not worthy of it? What if they abuse the gifts given to them?
- How can I tell when someone is suffering?
- Really, what can I do?
I learned in Church recently that when trying to comfort someone, you should express sadness that the person is going through what they are, but then bear testimony that it is only Christ that can really help them. (I think this is more for loss than temporal grief. I.E. I'm not going to say to someone with a bleeding leg, "I'm sorry, but there isn't anything I can do for your leg except tell you to lean on Christ." Obviously, there are practical things I could do to relieve that person's suffering.) I was in Argentina once and could see the problems of everyone around me, and it was made clear to me in that moment that I really couldn't do anything to solve their problems, but I could invite them to go to Christ and experience the aid that He freely gives.
So what is my role? Should all suffering be eradicated? Does that change my responsibility?
I was in Cuba recently, and I was painting a door of a church for a service project. I realized there were two ways to paint this door: one could be to look at it as a task to be done, and the other was to put my love into it. My ordinary actions can become more than what I do if I do them with love.
As it says in the book I'm reading, "The [Calcutta] missionaries' absolute conviction that they are serving Christ 'in the distressing guise of the poor' makes their arduous and repetitive labor sacred." Maybe a first step to having more love for my fellow beings is to think of them as Christ. Would I really turn down the opportunity to serve Him if He was standing right in front of me, begging for money? Though I may not outright feel love for that person specifically, I can show my love to my God and do it "unto the least of these."
What about you? Do you have a natural ability to love or has it been cultivated over time? What do you do to serve others? How do you maintain proper perspective when doing seemingly boring or insignificant work?