I am sitting in FirstBank on Colfax, helping my friend Alice** open an account. A small thing. I watch her, clearly anxious, hands shaking as she fills out forms. I ask myself, “Is this love?” A frequent question since coming here.We met Alice, husband Fred** and son Colton** over a year earlier at a motel. Alice and Colton have significant disabilities, Colton’s the result of head trauma, hers from abuse. Fred kept them afloat, managing their meager money, navigating motel life, easily the healthiest of the three. We stopped regularly on Tuesday’s, dropping off food, catching up and praying.Recently, Fred unexpectedly died. Diane walked over from the Ranger to offer support. She found them grieving and rudderless, the ship’s captain gone.Diane discovered Alice had inheritance money coming, not from Fred, but her dad. She showed Diane a legal document, four pages she didn’t understand. I got a copy and sent it to a lawyer friend for deciphering.
Turned out she had several thousand dollars coming, money that could stabilize their life at a desperate moment. I explained the form to her. The lawyer avoids talking directly with her so we call him together. Yes, she has money coming, but needs a bank account or they won’t release the money.I ask Alice if she has a bank account. Not surprisingly, the answer is no. Few of our flock do. I offer to pick her up and take her to the bank. A small thing.So here I sit, at the bank, occasionally helping. Again, the question—persistent, penetrating: “Is this love?” I mean this small act, helping open the account, but also preceding small acts—copying a document, forwarding it to a lawyer friend, talking to Alice, calling her lawyer, helping her get up into my old truck, taking her to the bank, helping open this account, all mixed with small prayers.
As a highly trained, deeply experienced pastor, leader and communicator, I spent years doing big things. Now, I do small things, things some might say I am overqualified for. Small acts, small things, small prayers, nothing of note, nothing too hard. Is this love?Mother Theresa, ever my teacher, said this: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” I puzzle on that. My odd journey has been from big to small, a reality sharply focused with Alice—one small act, followed by another, followed by another. How do I do these small things with great love?I wish, not for the first time, that Mother Theresa was here. I want to ask her about great love. I can guess her answer: “Shawn, as you do this small act, hold Alice in your heart. Value her, treasure her as a gift from God. Look past her poverty, disability, and tics. See Jesus in her, be Jesus to her. Let Jesus’ love flow between you and Alice.”Some days that comes easily. I look over at Alice, struggling and anxious, and see in her the beauty of God’s creation. The wonder of what He has made. I feel the great privilege of serving her, doing a few small things. Small acts, great love.
Today that makes beautiful sense. Other days, not so much. I have small acts to do, but don’t want to do them. I may be tired, may resent the demands, may even resent the person. Usually, I just push through, do the act and force some cheerfulness. But I feel no great love. Again, I hear Mother Theresa: “Shawn, do the small act anyway. Love is the act, not the feeling. Don’t worry about an inner buzz. Act!” She herself struggled with years of inner spiritual barrenness, yet served many. Small acts, great love, felt or not.A phrase comes, capturing this truth; “Loving small.” Loving small means doing small things, helpful things, things not all that striking, but doing them with great love; doing them when we feel like it, doing them when we don’t.
Loving small is great love. At the bank, a problem: Alice can’t use her motel address to open the account, another insult for the poor. I am angry and let it show, a small act aimed at defending Alice’s dignity. I offer our home address for her account and they accept. Another small thing. All along, the question roars, Is this love?Now comes the answer, thundering in my head, pounding in my heart. A chorus of voices—Jesus, my mother, Mother Theresa, others too—rises above First Bank, above East Colfax, above a fallen world, and proclaims: Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes. This is love, these small things, loving small, perhaps the greatest love we can offer.
**Names changed to protect identity