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Small graces

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I have a lot to learn from Mother Teresa. Chances are, most of us do.

Jaymie Stuart

It's the little things. Big goals are reached by small and steady steps. Large obstacles are removed one bit at a time. Great transformations often come from relatively small changes. The basic units of every aspect of our earthly lives are the small and manageable choices and opportunities we often miss because they aren't big enough to draw our attention.

I guess what I mean to say is that all the things we tend to think of as small and insignificant, aren't. They add up. But even taken one at a time, they matter in ways we don't anticipate or readily acknowledge.

Little things can make us feel like we belong. Seeing a familiar face in the grocery store aisle or a smile from a stranger reaffirms the fact that I'm part of a community. Small victories -- like finally emptying the last box or finding a parking spot without even trying -- can give us confidence that the world is on our side. The simple pleasures of a favorite food or song on the radio can feel like the lap of luxury. Is there anything better than clean sheets?

But the small stuff can get us down, too. The fourth red light when you're in a hurry, the item you have to return because it's missing a part, the paper you can't find because you put it in a "special place," the off-hand remark that seemed personal -- any one of these little things can be the drop of rain that makes the whole barrel overflow.

Nobody knew about the impact of small things better than Mother Teresa. She was an expert in them, and she devoted her whole life to all the right ones. Teresa of Calcutta (now called Kolkata) chose to make herself small enough to make a difference in the way small things do. And what a difference she made! Now that she is being canonized, it may be tempting for us to focus on the Nobel Peace Prize or her countless speeches or how she founded the Missionaries of Charity. But those things were not her path to holiness. Mother Teresa became a saint by doing what most of us would consider unimportant, or even useless -- things like bandaging wounds that would never heal, giving a bed to someone who was dying, and cleaning toilets. (She used to say she was an expert in cleaning commodes.) She became holy through prayer and continually serving others in ways most of us don't bother with. She became a saint by doing the will of God without feeling the consolations of God. She fully embraced the all-encompassing task of mothering. And her children were all the poorest children of God throughout the world.

I have a lot to learn from Mother Teresa. Chances are, most of us do. I know I look for opportunities to use my talents and abilities for good. While that's a start perhaps, I have to admit that those things can also be self-serving, even self-aggrandizing. We are called to give what we have and what we are freely to the world. We are also called to be humble. Combining the two is a challenge.

Sometimes, though, God just asks us to be available for the small, mundane, and apparently low-value tasks that make up the bulk of what it means to serve others in love. It's easy not to see those opportunities to grow in holiness, especially when you're comfortably seated on your high horse. I admit spending a lot of time in that saddle.

So, if I want to live a life of sanctity, I don't need to go to India or move to the slums. I need to come down from the lofty and comfortable places I crave and give myself fully to small things. I need to look at how important those "small things" are in my own life, and acknowledge, on a daily basis, the great graces that flow from them.

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.

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