Mother Theresa suggests that we try to see Jesus in every person. She said that it was her privilege to wash Jesus’ festering wounds and to feed him as a tiny abandoned child with AIDS. Essentially, we should serve each person as if they are Jesus in disguise.
I’ve tried this for the past few years at work and it is pretty amazing, and yet very difficult. Every now and then I want to say, hey, Jesus, can you stop being so weird?
It isn’t all weird. Mostly, there is a lot of good in this practice. Because I have changed how I approach people, they have changed towards me. I used to have a lot of people yell at me. They would come in already loaded up with problems, and they were ready to share. Anything and nothing would set them off. It always seemed random when a person would yell, and I began to get very hesitant around everyone. I expected to get randomly yelled at, and they would read my fear and oblige me.
So I tried Mother Theresa’s approach, with a little bit of “The Dog Whisperer” thrown in. Work with me here. People are animals. We are civilized animals, mostly, but we are still animals. We forget this. We respond to the same cues that animals respond to. So showing calm, positive energy is going to result in better results than showing fear.
Being interested in and calm around every single person I help is honestly overwhelming to do for hours at a time. I am a huge introvert. I like people and am constantly fascinated by them, and I like serving them. But I need a lot of quiet and calm to recharge after a day at work.
The difference in patron’s reactions to me is amazing, though, so it is worth it. It is as if I’m playing a “hide and seek” game. I’m looking really hard for the good, the light. I’m trying to see their soul, the spark of God that is within them. They respond to my curiosity by opening up. Their light may be buried under years of abuse or self-hatred or illness, but it is always there. Where there is life, there is light. Just searching for it can bring it out and make it brighter.
Jesus in disguise can be really overwhelming, however. Gender and age are illusions. She can be lonely and I’m the only person she’s got to talk to. He can be a new widower and on the brink of tears while he is signing up for his library card. He can be really smelly because he walked to the library on a Tennessee summer day because his car broke down and he doesn’t have air conditioning at home. She can be a young mother with more children than she has patience for.
Jesus can be a real pain when he is like this. I want to say, hey, Jesus, can’t you show me your nice side sometimes? Why do you have to be cranky and smelly and mean? Can’t you just be normal for a change?
And then I pray again. I ask him to show himself to me again. I ask him to work through me. I ask that my words be what this cranky, smelly, mean person needs to hear. I ask that I’m able to offer them a bit of healing in the time we are together. I try to be mindful and fully present.
It is hard. But it is everything. It is what each of us is made for, this reality, this presence, this moment when we stop being machines and we start being human. It is beautiful and real and aching and sad and overwhelming and everything we need to make this place we call Earth a home. Because ultimately it is all about a connection between people. It is about incarnate love, this love made real and tender and fragile and beautiful.
But it sure would be nice if Jesus would take a bath and use a breath mint every now and then.