‘We can do no great things. We can only do small things with great love.’
Just thought I’d share something that happened today, because I know when others have shared similar experiences I’ve been really encouraged.
I made the decision so fast I didn’t even have time to get nervous or change my mind. All week the homeless had been on my heart, and this time I couldn’t stride past with deliberately averted eyes. The fact that there are so many homeless people in a city like Canterbury is so jarring. I’d just eaten a delicious meal and drank coffee with a friend in a warm café. And here was this man, shivering in the bitter cold. I couldn’t ignore it any longer. Here was the opportunity I’d been asking God for all week.
“Hi,” I ventured. “I don’t have any change on me. But I can get you a hot drink if you like?”
“Oh yeah, that would be great, thanks,” the man replied, clutching his dog and looking up at me with wary blue eyes.
“Tea or coffee?”
“OK, sure.” I smiled at him.
“I don’t know which way you’re going?” he said. There were no cafés in the direction I’d been heading.
“It doesn’t matter, I’ll go and get you one. What would you like?”
“Er, a cappuccino?”
I started off back up the high street.
I turned back.
“Could you get me something to eat too? I’m starving.”
I promised to get him a sandwich, then scuttled off again. I grabbed a sandwich in the Costa queue and waited impatiently, praying he would be there when I got back (as if he really had anywhere to go).
Of course, he was still there, and received his meager fare gratefully. I had half a mind to just leave it there, but something kept me from walking away. If I left, it would be like throwing the food at him just to prove to myself that I’d done a good deed, without having to step out of my comfort zone. That wasn’t love. So I asked him his name.
He told me his name. I told him mine. I remarked how nice it was to meet him, and he said the same. I use that phrase a lot, but this time I couldn’t have been more genuine. I think he meant it too. So I crouched down beside him on the street and listened as he explained that the soup shelter didn’t open for a few hours and he was starving, so he appreciated the sandwich. His hands and face were grubby. He smelt bad. But his eyes were kind and very blue, peering out of this desperate face, thanking me repeatedly while I mumbled that it was no problem. I asked him what had happened to him. He told me his story- he’d gone to school in Canterbury, then lost his partner and his business, and drank himself into homelessness. He told me he was getting close to winning a bid for a home, as recently he’d been in the top five, so he was just waiting now, trying to get his life back together.
And it was as I listened that I realised how simple this was. He wasn’t scary. OK, it was a little bit awkward, but not nearly as awkward as I’d expected. He was just a man, and we were just having a chat. God didn’t require me to be experienced or super spiritual or any of these things. He just wanted me to give this man my time.
And then came the question I knew I had to ask but dreaded.
“Would you mind if I prayed for you?”
He shrugged. “Yeah, alright.” Simple as that. No scoffing. So I closed my eyes, thanked God for him, prayed briefly for his protection and for his housing situation. To him it probably sounded so naïve and ineffectual. It sounded like that to my own ears. But God can do amazing things with the smallest of our human endeavours.
We said goodbye after that, as he thanked me once again and I murmured some pleasantry. I walked away knowing that what I had done would never be enough in the face of so much desolation and hurting. There are dozens of others like him in this city. But this morning at church, the man speaking reminded us of Mother Teresa’s famous quote- ‘We can do no great things. We can only do small things with great love.’