I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:33)
Don’t you love those “God moments” when He uses you in a way you do not expect? One memorable day I had a brief but unusual conversation with a teenager that left me feeling uplifted. At the time this occurred, I was working in a small town in a small school as librarian. The school was small enough that I knew each student by name. One day a new girl about 14 years old came to be with us.
Lily (not her real name), was extremely bright, but she had had a very unfortunate upbringing. Consequently she moved from the city to live with relatives in our small town. It was an extreme understatement to say she was not happy about this. She refused to make friends and was sullen most of the time. I often saw her sitting alone on the floor in the hallway, sketching in her book. I had not seen her smile much. Until one day in January.
On that day, Lily spent the better part of a 40-minute block—alone—working in the library. At one point I became vaguely aware that she was scanning the racks for a book to read. Shortly before the bell rang, she asked me if she was allowed to take out a book. I said sure, she was allowed up to three books if she wanted. Then she smiled a smile that cut me to the heart. It was bright and warm as the sun. It was stunning, not necessarily in a physical sense, but I felt the Lord was speaking to me through that smile.
Moments later she brought up three books. They were not books I would have chosen for myself, of the “scary” genre, one of which was “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. (As an aside, that book does give a prominent role to the power of the Eucharist.)
I made a comment about the kind of books she had chosen and that started a conversation about books and movies and how she always wears black. She was very animated and I was honored that she graced me with many of the smiles she had previously hoarded so vigilantly. I longed to keep the conversation going. I would have talked to her about anything, even beyond scary books, just to keep her there, to let her know that this small town is not so cold and dark as the world she was brought up in. Too soon the bell rang and she went on her way—smiling! I don’t know how far down the hallway she carried that smile, but I still carry it in my heart.
This experience illustrated for me exactly what St. Paul was talking about in the above scripture passage. I had been asked to set aside my own agenda and reach out to her broken heart on her terms. Anything else would have slammed the door on her smile—and her heart—and chased her far away.
Contrary to what we glean from the media, the greatest power in all the world is the power to transform hearts. This cannot be accomplished by brute force, but by means that are simple and humble and lowly. Through this experience, the Lord illustrated for me what it means to try to please someone for the benefit of her soul.
St. Francis calls us to submit our wills to anyone rather than follow our own wills. Perhaps that echoes what St. Paul means here—that we allow God to use us even if that means stepping out of our comfort zone and setting our own agenda aside.
I don’t know how this episode will play out in this girl’s life. But I will continue to hold this fragile flower up to the Mother of God for protection, “that she may be saved.”