We can do no great things—only small things, with great love” –Mother Teresa.

“…he [Jesus] had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people”—Hebrews 2:17.

This is the story of two elderly women named Thelma and me.

Thelma #1 was a member of my church when I was a pastor in Kentucky some years ago. Our worship was traditional, but when a month had five Sundays, the fifth Sunday featured a different style of music. Maybe it was jazz or bluegrass or even rock. On one of the rock Sundays, my choir director and I put together a band I named “Head Full of Eyes,” and planned what we felt was an exciting, but conservative, worship experience. It began with my singing and playing on electric guitar “Jesus is the Rock, ‘n’ He Rolls My Blues Away.” The piece wasn’t particularly loud or distorted or even very long. No jumping up and down or other frantic antics. And I was proud of the guitar solo I wrote for the song. But when Susan and I got home after church, she told me, “You scared Thelma.”

That made me very sad, because Thelma was one of my favorites, a sweet and kind lady that was a pleasure to be around. But I guess seeing her pastor in a boldly-patterned shirt playing rock music in church  was too much to take. What I had felt was a conservative performance turned out to be harmful and shocking to one of my beloved members. What I considered little was big.

Thelma #2 I met a week ago yesterday. I write a devotional for the local hospice that’s sent to staff, volunteers, caregivers and patients. So I was invited to a volunteer appreciation luncheon, at which Thelma was also present. As I was leaving, she stopped me. “I just want to see the face of the stranger who knows my heart,” she said. My devotionals had somehow spoken to her, even though I did not know her. Nothing other than God’s providence and Spirit at work can explain that.

Those devotionals don’t take much time to write, truth be told. They’re based on little things that happen to me—seeing a deer grazing by the road, watching my dog run. But again, what I feel is little is big to someone else.

We can never discount the potential impact for ill or for good of our smallest act or word. Jesus took five loaves and two fish offered by a little boy and turned them into sustenance for 5000. He can do the same with our gifts. And when what we consider small causes big hurt, we must trust that somehow in his grace and in his time he will overrule our folly and heal the pain, calm the fear others know due to our actions.

When we do such harm without meaning to, as I did to Thelma #1, our Lord forgives. That’s because he’s no stranger to our foibles, and he knows our hearts.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham