At the beginning of December, I read the Benedictine Oblate Newsletter from Sister Ruth. I had been wondering how I could focus on serving God wholeheartedly during the Advent season and beyond when I had so many “regular” duties that keep me quite busy? Sister Ruth advised we consider doing four simple things so that “we might light up the way for others, and, in the process be enlightened ourselves.”
Her list was as follows:
-pray for our “enemies” as well as our friends
-share with least among us and the “lepers” of our day
-visit the home-bound and lonely with a smile and a word of comfort
-express our gratitude to God and others
As I imagined “visiting the home-bound and lonely with a smile,” I recalled all the times my parents have done this very thing without hesitation. They visited others many times with their five kids in tow, never taking into consideration how they might have been inconvenienced. My parents exemplified love and compassion for others, as well as selfless attitudes when it came to sharing their time, talent, and their children with other people.
Visiting those who are lonely or home-bound is something I have always enjoyed doing. I got my dad’s ability to “visit” well with people under almost any circumstance. Perhaps due to this ability, I became good friends with my high school English teacher and old family friend, Craig. His mother, Shirley, was a dear old widowed lady who my family had also known for many years. After I graduated from high school, I would stop by Shirley’s apartment on a free afternoon just to say hello. I’d end up staying three or four hours because she would tell me so many great stories from her long life. I loved her stories, and listened intently. She always enjoyed having me stop by, and I gained much joy from her company, too.
When Shirley passed away a year later, I attended her visitation. I gave the usual hug of empathy to Craig’s wife, and then I moved to Craig. But Craig’s practical and somewhat stoic countenance melted when he hugged me. His embrace was long and tight, during which he said, “Thank you so much for visiting Mom. It meant so much to her.” When I looked him in the face, his eyes were full of tears. I remained silent, nodding appreciatively. This moment was the most tender I had ever seen Craig. I was sincerely surprised that the simple fact of my visiting his mom would make such a big impact on my old teacher friend.
That positive impact has not worn away, even though the newness of Craig’s mother’s passing has dissipated with a few years’ time. Recently, my husband and I hosted Craig and his wife for dinner at our apartment. About a week later, we received a note from Craig. He thanked us for our “warm hospitality,” and for serving older folks so generously (Craig and his wife are more than 40 years our seniors). He wrote next: “But then, I shouldn’t be surprised because of the kindly visits you made to my mother.” Indeed, visiting Craig’s mother when she was nearing the end of her life here on earth was a precious gift to Craig himself. It was a gift I was initially unaware of giving to him.
Another way in which my parents taught us kids to visit the home-bound or lonely was through Christmas caroling. This year, I organized our family caroling evening, stemming from my desire to bring the Light of Christ to others during the Advent season. (A few years back, we had caroled to Craig’s mom, Shirley. That evening is actually what inspired me to visit her some months later.) So my parents, younger brother, my husband, and I spent an entire evening caroling to friends, family, and some acquaintances. Thus, we continued our little tradition of giving to others our time and talent through caroling, as well as spending special time together as a family. By the time we reached our last stop for the evening, we were on our 4th hour of driving, knocking on doors, and singing Christmas carols. This last gentleman in particular was moved to tears during our rendition of Silent Night. His parting words to us were these: “Well this has been the most wonderful surprise! This was just so great!”
These experiences have taught me not to underestimate the power of being fully present in the flesh. I also try to rid myself of any little fears of being intrusive or uncomfortable with others. No, I’m not always perfectly confident when I put myself out there and visit with those who I don’t know very well. However, it is clear from the many tears, smiles, and sparkling eyes that we have brought great joy to those we visit with and carol to. In return, we also gain true joy in knowing we have blessed someone else. We humans of all ages need human interaction, and there are blessings abundant when those interactions are in service of God.
Sister Ruth’s words of advice that I had read in early December came at the best time to remind me that there’s so much more to life than what we see or experience in the here and now. She also reminded me of these ways in which going out of our way to spread kindness really does make such a positive impact on others. It’s so special and important to be the love of God made flesh through our actions, because we can shine God’s light on many if we will just take the time to do it.
Indeed, we all have the responsibility of spreading the Light that is Christ to others all year, not only during Advent and Christmas. Sharing a few minutes with someone in conversation, surprising an older person with a smile and sprightly “hello,” or simply being present with another human being may do more for others and ourselves than we may ever realize. As Jesus Himself said: “You are the light of the world. . . . [L]et your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” –Matthew 5:14a & 16.