March 27, 2012
A few months ago my husband, Eric, and I were standing in line at a new restaurant across the street from the IVP offices (a favorite lunch spot for many of my colleagues, in case you're ever looking to accost an editor or pilfer social media tips from a marketer extraordinaire). Without taking my eyes from the menu board, I leaned into his shoulder. "What sounds good to you?" I asked. "Wanna split a pizza?"
It was a ridiculous suggestion. In fifteen years of marriage, we'd negotiated some pretty rough waters, but never once had we agreed on the toppings that would adorn a communal pizza. So when he stepped out of line toward the restroom and casually tossed "Order whatever you want" over his shoulder, I was momentarily paralyzed. Then elated. Spinach and mushroom with goat cheese. Mmmmm.
But then I thought of Mother Teresa and the quote that had been worming its way through my brain for the last several months.
I hadn't fully read Margot Starbuck's third release, Small Things with Great Love, but the title (which stems from Mother Teresa's famous words, "We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love") had infiltrated much of my day. The idea of counting small things as valuable in the midst of a hectic life season was deliciously appealing. Maybe I couldn't volunteer in the mentoring program in downtown Chicago like I wanted to or jet off to teach leadership development in Rwanda with my church, but loving people in small ways? Now that I could handle.
Small things, I thought.
But it's just a pizza.
With great love,it echoed. Seriously Suanne, it's just a pizza.
Dangnabbit. Before I could change my mind, I stepped to the counter and, in one dying-to-self breath, I ordered the barbeque chicken pizza smothered with caramelized onions, to the shock and delight of my husband when he came back to our booth.
I almost broke my arm patting myself on the back. For weeks. Then one afternoon I was sitting in my office, cozied up with Margot's book, and I blushed at how drastically I missed the point.
In chapter four (titled "Our Own"), Margot shares her own passionate amore for her husband and kids, but then she adds what should be obvious: "Sacrificing for my own isn't really so noble. . . . I'm not knocking it," she says, "I just don't think it's the end of the story."
Hmph. I guess my pizza thing wasn't such a big deal after all.
"It ain't so hard at all to sacrifice for these, our own. The real kicker is that when we are entirely identified with the triune God, the ones who are God's own become our own. The orphan, wherever he is found, becomes our own in exactly the same way that he is God's own. The widow, the one who's been left alone, becomes our own just the way that she is God's own. The hungry neighbor, across town and across the globe, becomes our own in the same way that he or she is God's own. The sick, the ones who suffer, become our own in the same way that they are God's own. The prisoner, the one who has been forgotten, becomes our own in exactly the same manner that he is God's own."
Reading Margot's words left me with the same prickly conviction I feel anytime I read Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount: "If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even the pagans do that." What I love about Small Things with Great Love is that Margot challenges our complacency at the same time she extends us grace. She recognizes the unique and varying stages of life we find ourselves in and encourages us to love our neighbors from wherever we are. In a world that's obsessed with the big and the grand, Margot, like Mother Teresa, encourages us to do the small things that display God's extravagant love to those we encounter (or maybe need to encounter) every day.
But not just to the ones we naturally consider our own -- and this really is the point-- the ones we uncomfortably consider as well. The ones that Jesus moved towards and lived among and feasted amidst and healed from within -- the poor, the prisoner and the brokenhearted. The ones, as Margot points out, that dwelled in the center of his Father's heart. "In this," says Margot, "his Father's own became his own."
May it be true of us as well.