Do that small thing

“Thanks. That’s the nicest thing that’s happened to me today.” The woman in the “12 items or less” line smiled briefly at me as I took her grocery basket to tuck away on the pile. I wondered what kind of day she must be having when such casual gesture was a highlight.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? We never know what kind of day another person is having and we might never realize how even the smallest kindness can transform a moment. So – go ahead and do that small thing.

We live in a noisy world filled with video clips of grand gestures and dramatic moments. We can view elaborately staged proposals (even “promposals”), heart-rending reunions, and over-the-top surprises. It might make our everyday actions – a welcoming smile or a door held open or a steadying hand – seem unimportant in comparison. But don’t believe that. Go ahead and do that small thing.

We live in a world with crushing needs. I wish I could go to Pittsburgh and put my arm around the grieving mother whose teenage son was shot. I wish I could travel to Texas and comfort crying children separated from their parents. I wish I could help that homeless person I saw in New York, instead of just stepping over him on the sidewalk. I can’t do those things.

But we can endeavor to do what we can. As a first step, ignore that doubting voice of cynicism that mocks small gestures of kindness or caring as futile when compared to the world of anger and hurt. Make that call, send that email, smile at the cashier, greet a stranger, do that volunteer work.  Whatever it is – go ahead and do that small thing.

As the Rev. John Wesley wisely said,

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

Go ahead and do that small thing. All those “small things” add up. And they may make a world of difference.

Quality Treats

Halloween was about quality, not quantity where I grew up. Houses were spread far apart in our rural area, necessitating car-driven trick or treating. Since that was all I ever experienced, it didn’t seem strange to me.  My best friend and I would spend weeks preparing and trying out various costumes until we cobbled together (never bought) some dress-up creation. A hobo, a flapper, a mummy come to mind. One year it was a huge box with head and arm holes that fit over my body; it was spray-painted silver and plastered with dials, a compass, and a thermometer. Suddenly, I was a robot.  Climbing in and out of the car was a challenge, but I felt very futuristic and modern.

Our Halloween visits were eagerly anticipated by our few neighbors. When we arrived, anxious to knock on the door or ring the doorbell, the door would swing open with a hearty, “Come in!” Waiting for us was a bowl filled with Halloween napkins tied with yarn that were stuffed with (full-size) candy bars and candy corn. Often a short visit for the adults would be required, despite our squirmy insistence that we move on to the next stop. We still had a lot of ground to cover that night. Thirteen or fourteen stops later, Halloween was over for another year, but we could go home to count, sort, and treasure our sweet treasures.

There were of course a few “ringers” in the neighborhood. The over-sticky candied apple at the orchard home or the collection of lemon drops and “suckers” from an elderly widow. That’s when the lesson of smiling and saying “Thank you” kicked in. But mostly our reward was a bounty of goodies, generously and gladly given.

What I realize now as an adult is how fortunate I am to have so many happy childhood memories. Much of my listening time as a minister is filled with stories of abuse or drama, angry or hurtful words in turbulent, unhappy homes. The lack of stability in childhood makes it challenging (not impossible, but more difficult) to create a stable adulthood. Many struggle for decades to overcome damage that was done.

I had the privilege of receiving what every child deserves, but does not get. I had parents who were dependable and loving and who created a safe place to grow up.

If you are someone who had a stable (not necessarily rich or luxurious, but safe) upbringing, take a moment to give thanks for those who loved and protected you.

If your memories of growing up are more troubled, know that God’s desire for you is that you know your true identity – you are a beloved child of God, who is loved and lovable. That unshakeable love is the gift, the treat, that each one of us is offered – on Halloween and every day.

Celebrating our “Kindness Tree”

A tree grows in our sanctuary.  Actually, it is pretty barren right now, with a single paper leaf dangling on it.  This is our “Kindness Tree.”  During the season of Lent we will be talking with our children and congregation about how we live out Jesus’ command to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”  Each week we will add another leaf to celebrate acts of kindness. And together we will wonder – How do we live kindness?  How do we share kindness?

In the midst of the excessively nasty rhetoric in the news and social media these days, it is important for the church to offer another voice, an alternate tone, and a different viewpoint. There are few public figures that I as a parent would lift up to my children as viable, admirable role models. There are words and phrases spewed across the airwaves that we would not allow our Sunday School children to repeat. And there are attitudes and hateful opinions that contradict the Gospel of love and new life that we cherish.

What’s a church to do?

We can offer a new conversation. We can encourage our children to listen to the life-giving voice of the One who created them and loves them unconditionally. We can be inspired by Jesus who always reached out to the outcasts, shared meals with the shunned, and healed the forgotten, the lonely, and the hurting. We can try to follow his footsteps.

We can live kindness.

Every week during Lent we will listen to stories and examples of people who make a difference in someone’s life. Our role model will be the Good Samaritan who had the wisdom to recognize a beaten, abused man left on the roadside as a beloved child of God. The Samaritan was himself part of a reviled group of people; popular opinion labelled him as a subhuman who should be feared.

The Samaritan didn’t allow others to define him. He didn’t listen to their narrative and wasn’t swayed by their opinion. Instead, he lived his truth.

He shared loving kindness with a stranger.

Sometimes people talk about “giving up” something for Lent and it may be that weaning ourselves away from the endless negative chatter would be a good start. But perhaps adding something to our lives would be even more important.

  • We can speak words of kindness.
  • We can share acts of thoughtfulness.
  • We can remind one another – friends and strangers – that we are created in the image of God.
  • We can be gentle with one another.
  • We can encourage each other.
  • We can wonder if a person we encounter is going through a difficult time.
  • We can extend grace.

Every day between now and Easter, let’s make someone’s life a bit better.

As Aesop reminds us, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Kindness tree 1