The little things, done with love, matter.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux reminds us, “Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing.”
St. Thérèse practiced this kindness in her convent, in small but meaningful ways, all the time.
One of her jobs was to launder handkerchiefs — and one of the sisters continually splashed hot, dirty water in Therese’s face.
St. Thérèse made a huge effort to be kind and not strike back or complain. She also struggled to help Sister St. Pierre, an older and irritable nun, walk from the chapel to the dining area.
This older nun would complain that Thérèse was walking too fast; or she would not want to hold the younger woman’s hand.
This griping continued into the meal, when Thérèse tried to cut up her meat or simply try to be attentive to her needs.
She was going to give Christ’s love to everyone regardless of the cost, and I am sure these words of Jesus inspired her deeply: “Love your enemies and do good to them and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for He himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6:35).
Without a doubt, St. Mother Teresa — who chose her name after St. Thérèse — was inspired by her selflessness. How often was she seen cleaning wounds, helping the poorest of the poor, cleaning waste, and otherwise tending to others in so many ways.
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We can see many examples of this in our everyday lives today.
One evening, while on board the train leaving New York City’s Grand Central Station and heading north, I saw an elderly Chinese couple start shouting desperately to everyone in what sounded like Mandarin.
The man directly in front of me was listening attentively and soon figured out they were asking if the train was going to stop in the town of Port Chester, New York.
He reassured the elderly lady with a lot of kindness that indeed it would, and suddenly a smile lit up on this couple’s faces, and the woman said “thank you” in broken English at least five times.
My mom once told me a heartwarming story about my older sister, Debbie, who managed a Social Security office in Michigan for many years, from her wheelchair (she has rheumatoid arthritis).
She developed a friendship with one of the cleaning ladies, and over time, noticed the young woman was pregnant.
My sister asked if she was going to have a baby shower with her friends.
The woman blushed and said, “No,” as she and her friends could not afford it. So my sister asked her entire office to throw a surprise baby shower and a lunch for this cleaning woman and her friends.
Such a simple idea — but what an impact that made on the culture of that office. “Whatever you do to the least of these brothers of mine, you do to me” (Matthew 25:40).
Kindness should be a mindset, as Proverb 3:3 reminds us: “Do not let love and fidelity forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.”
Unload the dishwasher when nobody is watching. Prepare the coffee in the morning for the rest of your family or friends. Or write a note of thanks to someone to show appreciation, let another driver turn into a side street during a traffic delay, give up your preferred seat in a restaurant or diner to someone else who needs it more — this list could go on and on.
It’s also easy, during our busy days, to forget God’s incredible love for us starting with the gift of life and our faith.
He does so many “behind-the-scenes” favors for us and continually showers us with His love and grace, even though at times it may be tough love to get us to a higher level of holiness.
Our lips should repeat with Psalm 117: “Praise the Lord, all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples! His mercy for us is strong; the faithfulness of the Lord is forever.”
Let’s have an open mind and open heart to see the needs of those around us — and take action. Do it, but do it with love, and try to soften and sweeten the burden of so many hurting hearts.
“Never get tired of doing little things for others — sometimes those little things occupy the bigger part of their hearts,” said St. Thérèse.
Fr. Michael Sliney, a Catholic priest, is an adviser to the Lumen Institute, a professional business group. This article appeared in LifeZette earlier and has been updated.