About a year ago, I came across an essay by Deirdre Sullivan titled, “Always Go to the Funeral”. It changed my life.
The premise was simple enough: whenever you have an opportunity make some sort of small impact by simply showing up at a funeral, do it. The cost of you going is an hour or so in a slightly awkward, potentially very emotional service. But the benefit can be priceless. You simply have no idea how comforting your presence, whether you only know someone on the periphery or not, could be to someone closely involved. Sullivan writes, “In going to funerals, I’ve come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life’s inevitable, occasional calamity.” While reading Shane Claiborne’s “Irresistible Revolution” recently, I came across a strikingly similar quote by none other than Mother Theresa: “There are no great things. Only small things with great love.” How beautiful is that?
I’m getting ready to roll out of town to head back to my old stomping grounds for a week. I’m taking our high school youth ministry on a mission trip to Eastern Kentucky, where I worked as a news anchor at a television station for a year and a half. The towns nestled in between those kudzu-covered Appalachian Mountains hold some of the poorest populations in the U.S. I always refer to it as “America’s Secret” because I had no idea how striking the poverty was until I was transplanted there. I’m taking our students there to see something they’ve probably never seen before. I’m taking them there to work hard and to “give back”. But most importantly, I’m taking them there for something else.
I’ve been on mission trips to the projects of Chicago and the shacks of Kenya. I know that these are not about how big of a help we are to others. They are about community. They are about genuine caring. They are about that one thing that is most important to us as a group on this trip: learning how to do “small things with great love.”
But why stop there? Why stop with a mission trip that is taking us half a day’s trip across the country? Why don’t we continue these “small things” here in Arkansas? Why don’t we spread “great love” all across this southern city? I’m not talking about a going-down-to-the-soup-kitchen-once-a-year kind of love. I’m talking about a deep, rolling, heart-wrenching passion for THIS city and a desire to form real relationships with real people. But I’m still talking about doing it in the small ways.
A great friend of mine recently told me a thought that deeply affected him. In college he wanted to do something “great”, but somebody posed this thought to him: “have you even made your bed?”. Something in us desires greatness. We long for the heroic. We relate to so deeply to Maximus Aurelius and William Wallace. We want to paint our faces blue and white or to be thrown in with the lions. But…have we even made our beds?
So how can we show great love? Here’s a few small ideas. Always smile at strangers. Always pick up a phone call from your friend. Always say, “thank you”. Always hold the door open. Always let someone merge. Always hug goodbye. Always give. Always trust. Always listen. Always care. Always go the funeral.