To Do One’s Little Bit

The Reverend Elijah B. White

Quinquagesima

March 1, 1987 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Driving along the partially-plowed streets and roads last week I found myself in an old habit:  when there was a pile of slush along the center-line, or toward the edge of the pavement, I’d aim my wheels on that side at it, rather than avoid it.

Of course, l wasn’t foolhardy − I picked smallish slush-piles, and left alone any that looked too solid, or too big.  But it’s a good feeling to hear the tires go “squoosh” and know that there’d be one less pile to freeze solid at night, one less piece for the next driver to have to cope with.  I can’t solve Loudoun County’s snow removal problems − but I can make just that one little bit of road just an infinitesimal tad clearer, safer, maybe even “better.”

I didn’t kid myself that I’d done much good − but, by Jove, as I flattened each pile I felt good because I knew I’d done some good, at least I’d sped up the melting process.

Thinking about this as I drove along reminded me that, when I’m walking down a sidewalk or toward a store, there’s often a bit of rubbish lying there.  If it is manageable, not too sticky, I pick it up for the next trash container or even stick it in my pocket − and as I do so I say to myself, “That’s one less.”  It’s a good feeling, and when we get good feelings from doing something, we’re each time more likely to do it again.

Here’s a suggestion:  Doing something good or useful is especially valuable if we’ll consciously label it as such in our minds − positive reinforcement strengthens any good habit.

(That’s a pragmatic way to tell sin from good, by the way: doing good feels progressively better each time; but sin gives less kick each time, to suck us in to more and bigger transgressions trying to get the same feeling.)

Then I got to thinking about these little, useful acts (breaking up a slush-pile or picking up a bit of litter), as paradigms of our situation as Christians in this cold, slushy, littered world. I mean, don’t you ever feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this world’s problems, matters whose scope seems beyond you or anyone doing anything about?  Well, so do I, at times − but then I remember, that Despair is always of the Devil − I remember squashing slush-piles, and picking up trash − and I suggest to you this morning that you and I can make a difference!

Granted, you or I can’t tip the universal balance from evil to good − but what we do or don’t do does affect the amount on both sides of the scale: and you know how a balance-scale works:  moving one feather from one side to other makes two feathers’ difference.  The decision we have to make is not whether to make a difference, but whether (by action or inaction) to make our little difference on the good or the evil side. Every single slush-pile I choose to avoid, every bit of litter I pass by on the other side, is one more for someone else to deal with – just as each single piece I take care of is (good feeling) “one less!”

Do I sound like a cock-eyed optimist?  I hope you know me better than that:  I’m no Pollyanna − but I try to be a realist, and I can count to one:  I know that if I give 25 cents and it feeds even one hungry child, one meal, then that’s one meal where there might have been none − and I think I remember from math, that one is infinitely larger than zero.  So I do what I can; I consciously say to myself “one less” hungry child (or, “one more” meal) − and it feels good.  God means it to feel good, for He made us to enjoy the good.

Remember away back in 1980, when we began our Mission Outreach giving, I admitted that the little bit we could give to help would be just a drop in the bucket of this world’s needs − but by Jove, it’s our drop − and it’s God’s bucket! We can’t solve the problems of this world − but we can help some specific problems of some real live human beings.  (That we can’t do it all, is no excuse for not doing what we can!  My picking up a candy-wrapper in front of 7-11 won’t Keep Loudoun Beautiful − but if my doing it moves others to do likewise: and they inspire others: and pretty soon a lot of us are picking up trash − then perhaps we’ll be noticed by those who throw trash, and some of them might stop making mess.  Who knows?

In the same way, you or I can’t “stop” wife or child abuse:  but we can help specific wives, individual children, through our Mission Outreach to the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter.  We can’t “end” poverty in Haiti: but we can ease the conclusion of life for a few aged indigent women through our nuns at the Foyer Notre Dame.  We can’t “eliminate” the cesspool of Times Square:  but we can help a few children escape it by aiding Covenant House there.

Besides, as one of my favorite hymns says, “If with honest-hearted / Love for God and man, / Day by day Thou find us / Doing what we can . . . .”  You see, God never calls us to be successful − He only calls us to be faithful. “Do your best, trust God for the rest” − for that stanza continues, “Thou who giv’st the seed time, /wilt give large increase, / Crown the head with blessings, / Fill the heart with peace.”

Who knows what seeds He may be sowing in this our “seedtime,” in the lives of those around us or through our Mission Outreach, of which God may give some glorious future increase about which we may never even know.  You remember the information about Saint Christopher’s Home in Fiji, where we few are helping one 12-year-old Indian girl, our Parish Godchild Anita.  Who knows what influence for good our caring and helping may have on her in years to come?  And through her life, how many lives might we influence for the better?  We’ll never know − but that’s all right.  God knows, and it’s Him we serve – and every little bit helps, every slush-pile dissipated, every candy-wrapper picked up, every child helped.  I am enormously proud of our Parish’s missionary spirit, not only for your generosity but also for your faithful perseverance, your refusal to be dismayed into passivity by the magnitude of the problems of this fallen world.  There’s an old saying something like, “I cannot do everything, but I do something. What I can do, I should do, and by the Grace of God I will do:  I can do no more.  I will do no less.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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