It was one of those super frigid Indiana nights in mid-February. I hopped out of my toasty car and walked briskly into the homeless shelter for my nightly volunteer shift. Still warming up in the lobby, a young lady, who was staying at the shelter for the night, looked me up and down and whispered, “You’re fly.”
If you are not familiar with urban vernacular, it basically means, “You’re hot.”
Of course, I was taken aback and somewhat embarrassed that she was so forward with me, especially since I was wearing a wedding ring and I had never met her before. But I smiled, stared at the ground to find my equilibrium, and then looked up to sheepishly whisper back, “Thank you, I guess.”
Despite my apparent awkwardness in that moment, she came back at me again, still whispering, but this time a bit more audibly, “You’re fly.”
My face, veiled behind a graying beard, turned red. Whatever chill followed me from the outside was immediately eviscerated by a growing, sweat inducing, warmth. Did someone raise the temperature in this place? I thought. Even more uncomfortably this time, I replied, “Um. OK. Hey, thanks.”
My eyes locked in on the floor once again. I became a child hiding behind my blanket hoping no one could see me. The floor was my blanket. If I just kept looking at it, no one would see me, right? Maybe she wouldn’t still be looking at me.
But she was. And she had one more thing to say.
It’s at this point I should tell you that it is impossible, when someone is speaking to you, to discern the difference between the words “you’re” and “your.”
I looked up one last time, and in slow motion, I saw her arm extending and her finger zeroing in on my midsection.
And this time it wasn’t a whisper.
An Arctic chill blew past the gaping hole.
I thought I was going to die.
To be honest, it was an appropriate way to end the day. Mid-afternoon I had called my work partner and asked how the day was going. She said that she had slept in and was just running some errands. She had not previously told me she was taking the day off, so I was confused by her response.
After a few silent moments, I hesitantly muttered, “What?”
To which she, a bit too eagerly responded, “I’m just enjoying our company holiday today.”
Yup. I was the only person in the entire company working on President’s Day.
It’s amazing to me how the most insignificant, throwaway moments have the potential to become our greatest teachers and catalysts for profound life transformation.
I have been thinking about it for a couple of weeks now. And rather than discarding that day as a series of unfortunate, embarrassing events, what if these moments are gifts that can teach us and help us grow?
For me, it was the momentary realization that I had been too proud in my abilities and my self-sufficiency. I was in need of humility. And there it was, in the most unlikely places, greeting me, ready to teach me, ready to guide me into greater depths.
You may have never thought of it this way, but these small moments are gifts, if we will receive them and let them teach us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book “Life Together,” writes that, “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”
He is exactly right.
We pray that the world will become more peaceful. We pray that our country will become more just, equitable, and virtuous. We pray that our culture will become one that honors all life, that looks to the interest of another, and that treats all people with dignity and respect as image-bearers of God. We may even pray that God will use us to change the world.
Yet, while we pray for the big things, we forget to give thanks for the small (and yet really not small) gifts. We neglect the hidden treasures throughout our day that greet us, moment by moment, and that are always there to teach us, and guide us at the soul level.
You are likely familiar with this quote from Tolstoy: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Or, this quote from Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Or, this quote from Mother Teresa: “We can do no great things — only small things with great love.”
The truth is that the small things are the key to the big things.
In fact, that is the wisdom of Jesus, as well. He says that the kingdom of God, or God’s in-breaking presence within our lives, is that which has the power to change the big things. It is the small seed that grows into an invasive shrub that takes over everything in its path.
It is again the small seed that has the potential to move the biggest mountain. It is the small measure of yeast that causes the large batch of dough to grow and expand. When God’s loving presence is sown, it begins to take root. It grows and expands invasively through our lives and then into our relationships, our neighborhoods, our communities, our country and our world.
For Bonhoeffer, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Jesus, to change the big things, one must first be changed.
And that has been my prayer each morning when I first open my eyes while still lying in bed, and then my prayer each night as I turn off the light: “Let me be your love. Let me be your peace. Let me be your joy.”
(Even if it takes me learning how to become those things through unzipped pants)
For if my relationships are ever going to change, it begins in me.
If my family is ever going to change, it begins in me.
If my country is ever going to change, it begins in me.
If the world is ever going to change, it begins in me.
And it begins in you, too.
Brandon Andress of Columbus is a former local church leader, a Christian book author, a current iTunes podcast speaker and a contributor to the online Outside the Walls blog. His latest book is “Beauty in the Wreckage: Finding Peace in the Age of Outrage.” He can be reached at his website, brandonandress.com.