She clutches the leaves to her chest while eyeing me warily. The fact that she sees me every day has not lessened her fear. But her grandmother’s bright eager smile and enthusiastic wave more than offset the toddler’s reaction. Greeting this sweet family has become the best part of my morning walks.
I recently traded the busy, all-consuming work of a medical missionary for the quieter life of a stay-at-home writer. My days used to be filled with sick people in need of healing, and the demands always outweighed my time. But since moving back to the US and trading in my stethoscope for a laptop, the entire rhythm of my world has been turned upside down. I now go days without seeing people unless I force myself out of the house. Thus, my twice daily walks.
The little girl and her grandmother are from China. The only word in English that they know is “hello.” But something in the way that her grandmother beams and throws her whole arm into waving at me makes me feel loved and happy and hopeful. After a few weeks of daily greetings, I finally put my missionary skills to use and learned some words in Chinese. The shocked look on the grandmother’s face when I said, “Nǐ hǎo” was the highlight of my whole week.
Some days they’re the only people outside of my family that I talk to face-to-face. And we only know a few words of each other’s language. But somehow it’s enough. Somehow we let smiles and waves and laughter fill the distance between us.
The little girl is slowly warming to me. I always look forward to seeing what she’ll be collecting that day. Sometimes it’s rocks, other times it’s sticks, and leaves are always an old faithful. Once she even cornered a cat. Placing both hands on her knees, she leaned forward to investigate, her eyes wide with wonder. It is there in those small interactions that I find joy and connection and even God.
Sometimes I struggle with feeling like my new life here in America is not as important to God as my old life in Tanzania. Is writing books as worthy of a calling as saving lives? Am I doing enough good in the world? Is God disappointed in me? Am I disappointed in me?
Then I remember Mother Teresa’s advice to love the one in front of you. All of the amazing, self-sacrificial, sainthood-worthy things that she did were born of small moments of great love. I may not be in India, picking beggars up off the streets, but I can love the one in front of me. I may not be dispensing medicine or performing operations, but I can wave at a little girl and her grandma. I may not do all the godliest things, but I can trust that the desire to please God does, in fact, please God.
That last line is from a prayer that has been a lifeline for me as I’ve struggled with more questions than answers. It is written by the great Thomas Merton. And I figure that if he dealt with doubt, fear, confusion, and a lack of conviction, then it’s okay that I do too.
I hope his words minister to you deeply:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Wherever you are in the world today and whatever work you are doing, I hope you know that God sees you. God looks on you like a loving Father, not a disappointed boss or strict teacher. God is smiling on you, his beloved child, and waving with great joy when you turn toward him.