Recently I was taking a walk at the Cypress retirement center with my friend Neal, a retired pastor. He stooped to pick up a nicely colored leaf, then a bit later tucked it into a mailbox.
“I like leaves,” he said, “but the woman who lives there lost her husband recently. So every time I walk by I leave a leaf to remind her that I am praying for her. She is not forgotten.”
That triggers me to think how small acts of love can play a big part in our Lenten practice.
When I was growing up in Canada, Lent was no big deal. We Presbyterians thought only Catholics observed Lent and had to give up everything fun or delicious. Later I learned that Lent is kept worldwide by many Christians, reflecting the 40 days Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, and reminding us to clean up our lives.
Then another friend, David, a Catholic priest, told me that while he gave up certain things for Lent, it was more important for him to add others. “I call or write notes to people who have meant a lot to me, just to let them know I am grateful.”
David and Neal inspire me to “add on” some acts of caring and loving this year.
I have been sorting through hundreds of old photos from years past, throwing some away, keeping others. So I have chosen some photos of people who once were important in our lives, scanned and emailed them with a note to say I remember them, with much thanks.
’Tis a gift to do simple things. Our youngest grandson has had a tough year, recovering from a motorcycle accident. But his great desire is to help people. I told him of having lunch with a guy who had just lost his job and needed encouragement. He told how he and his roommate saw a man using a walker fall, and no one stopped to help. Ben and his friend stopped their car, jumped out and helped him up.
The former UNC basketball center and broadcaster Brad Daugherty spoke at the memorial for his coach, Dean Smith. Brad had just finished a broadcast in Boston, and was rushing through a snow storm to his car. A man in the parking lot asked if he could spare some cash. Brad shrugged him off, said he had only a credit card. Then he paused, went back, gave the man several dollars, and as he got into his car imagined he heard Dean Smith say, “That was the right thing to do.”
It was a small act, inspired by a great teacher/coach, who always told his players to do the right thing.
Lent is a time to remember the greatest teacher/leader/savior, who did the greatest thing of all, by dying for our sins. Yet on the way to the cross he had time to stop and heal one blind man, and to wash his disciples’ dirty feet.
Jesus was the motivation for Mother Teresa. I once met her in Calcutta. She was a little woman, barefoot, with thick glasses, and a bunion on one toe. I asked her how she kept going as she and her sisters helped the hundreds of dying poor.
“We do our work for Jesus, with Jesus, to Jesus,” she said. “And that’s what keeps it simple.”
Simple, yes. Like a leaf in the mailbox. A few dollars given to a hungry man. A word of thanks. Small acts of love and kindness.
As Mother Teresa used to say, “We cannot do great things. We can do small things with great love.”
What could be your “add on” for Lent? Today?
Leighton Ford of Charlotte is a Presbyterian minister known internationally as preacher, writer and mentor.