“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt 23:11-12).
Jesus warns us to resist the sin of pride, where we place ourselves as the focal point instead of God. This happens when we seek to be the center of the gravitational pull within our realm of influence. Through our subtle and not so subtle actions, we can embrace this temptation to live a life of, “Look at me, look at me!” Desiring to be affirmed is not a bad thing but that ought not to be our primary motivation for our actions. Ultimately, we will be better served when we seek our affirmation from God.
Choosing our own self-determination free of God’s guidance is the height of pride. God does not seek to limit us but to inspire us so that we may actualize the fullness of who he has created us to be. St Mother Teresa often guided her sisters not to seek to do great things but to do little things with great love. I came across a cassette tape of one of her talks during my freshman year of college. Her words started to plant a seed in my soul that urged me to look out beyond myself toward others.
Growing up with an introverted and shy nature, I spent much of my youth in my own world. In my second semester of that same year, I took a psychology course and thought it would be interesting to work in a hospital. A close friend of mine, Steve, shared with me that his mother was a nurse in a nursing home in our hometown. That summer, when the semester ended, I applied for the job as a certified nursing assistant and was hired.
The first resident I assisted was named Margaret. She rolled passed me in her wheelchair and a particular odor followed. The aide I was training with caught my eye and I realized this would be my first solo attempt of service. I redirected and guided her to the toilet, which was in a small closet-sized area in between two adjoining bedrooms. It was a particularly hot day, and as I removed Margaret’s depends, I found quite the surprise. For the next fifteen minutes as I washed her midsection and perineal area, I sweat, teared up, and repeatedly fought back the urge to gag, all the while Margaret sang. Once cleaned up and in a fresh nightgown, I helped her into her bed, tucked her in, and then Margaret said, “Give me a kiss lover.”
Others may have run for the door and never looked back. I stayed, and for the next four or five years, I experienced the wonderful gift of building relationships with the many residents and coworkers who drew me out of myself and into their worlds. What started out as a job became an extended family.
God presents us with opportunities daily. Often, we are faced with a decision to choose to keep the focus on ourselves or to be present for and give of ourselves to others. May we resist the urge to remain turned in upon ourselves out of anxiety or fear and instead pray for the courage to be open to the opportunities to extend the grace God gifts us with. May we be willing to serve in little ways with great love, one person, one encounter at a time. I pray that you may encounter your Margaret! For Margaret helped me to live what St Mother Teresa taught me: “Love only can become our light and joy in cheerful service of each other” (Teresa 2010, 355).
Mother Teresa. Where There Is Love, There is God. Edited by Brian Kolodiejchuck, M.C. NY: Doubleday, 2010.