To Create Many Ripples

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.”

– Mother Teresa

This was the inscription on a piece of wood art given to me by an older cousin of mine this weekend. I must say that she is on a roll, because last Christmas she gave me a beautiful leather journal inscribed with the words, Trust in the Lord, on every page!  Both gifts are very beautiful and spiritually inspiring to me.

Being with family over the holidays, especially family that I don’t see terribly often, is always a bit of a reality check for me as well as a comfort. Today is also the feast of the Holy Family, when we celebrate the fact that Jesus had a family which was in many respects just like one of ours. Jesus had cousins, too! I suppose that he must have been inspired by them, and I am sure that he was loved by them and loved them in return. Perhaps, like his mother, his cousins even taught him something of love. Imagine that – teaching Jesus to love! Not that Jesus was ever anything but loving, but someone had to teach him how to play, how to give good hugs, how to dance. If they had had brownies in those days, his cousins could have baked him some of those as well (I have really good cousins).

The really neat thing about Jesus that we celebrate on a feast like today is that he shows us what is already sacred in our humanity – or perhaps he makes it sacred! Does taking time for prayer pull us away from our families? No! Growing closer to God means growing closer to the ones we love, whether they are praying with us or we are simply praying for them ourselves. The way to sanctity is the way to humanity. Ask Jesus to show you how to be the best member of your family that you can be!

Think of the ripple caused by a stone cast into a pool of water: from the center it spreads out gradually, a tiny wave being passed along from drop to drop in a perfectly smooth sequence. When we help our family (the small circle), the effects of our love are carried on by them into the lives of others who are beyond our reach!

ripples (mother teresa)

Or, take another example: this blog. Blogging, for me, is not as glamorous as it once appeared; and not very many people – at least by internet standards – are likely to read what I write. But if I am able to reach just a few people with this article, and if they are inspired to reach out to their families in love, then my “skipping stone” has been cast, and the ripples have begun!

For Blessed Mother Teresa, the saintly nun who was “just a drop in the ocean” and who was called to be “faithful rather than successful”, we are not supposed to change the world, but to love the people that God has placed around us. Don’t be famous; be faithful! Don’t be perfect; be loving! Don’t be better than everyone else, but make everyone else better. Jesus didn’t spend the first 30 years of his life showing off, but quietly living as a member of his family and his community and getting to know his Father in heaven through a quiet life of prayer. Maybe we can learn something from Jesus, right? Make you family a holy one by loving them as Jesus loves them.

One of the most remarkable features of a human life is its brevity. Just as a good family reunion can seem to end without warning after just a few days, so our lives are likely to end without warning after just a few years. In my own life, many years seem to have passed by in discrete stages, each with its own environment and temporary group of friends. When I look back on the people I knew in middle school, in high school, in college, I realize that most of my relationships – despite the illusion of eternal connectedness via Facebook – are doomed only to last for a few short years. I feel almost as if I have lived and died through several short lives already, having lost touch with most of the people I once knew. This tendency of being confined to temporary bursts of existence, of interaction, is the dark side of being a “skipping stone”, never quite touching down in one place but leaving again before the “ripples” can take effect.  Family is in some ways the nice exception to this rule of modern life, this curse of relational homelessness, because wherever you go and whatever you do you will still have the same family; but even these relationships are often distant. We all long for a lasting peace, for a place to rest our heads, and although we may hope to find it with our parents, our spouse, or our children, the reality is that God is the only one who will always, always, always stay with us – and yes, God has made himself “family” to us by adoption! In the meantime, there is no guarantee of how long we can keep the human relationships that we have.

This sobering fact brings home the reality that every moment we have to be Christ for another person in this life is precious.  It is therefore crucial that we take the time to consider how best to spend every moment of our lives, so as not to waste even the smallest portion thereof.

If we consider the first 30 years of Jesus’ life, before he began his public ministry, it is easy for us to accuse him of just that. What was Jesus doing for all of those years in Galilee?  Was he wasting time?  No; he was living a human life!  By the miracle of the Incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas – by taking on human flesh not as an adult but as an infant – God affirms that human life is worth living, that it is in itself meaningful, and that the simpler activities of those first 30 years were not a waste.

I have another cousin (she was making brownies today) who shared with me something rather crucial about herself and about the meaning of life. I had just been joking with her that she might one day become the world’s most famous English professor when she said, “I don’t want to be famous.” Almost apologetically, she explained that for her, the notoriety of worldly success is simply not where-it’s-at. She has no desire to be rich, or even to be widely respected for what she does. Like Jesus in those first 30 years, she just wants to love God and others by simply being human, and being the best human that she can be. For her that most likely means becoming a good daughter, sister, wife, and mother for her family while reading lots of books and baking lots of brownies! It means living a life of gratitude to God for the gifts that she has received, and then using those gifts with love for the joy of others. That is what God is calling her to! What is he calling you to?  I want to be more like this cousin!  Who will you learn from in your family today?

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