Small or Big, Gracious Acts can change others and oneself
By: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist—
Good Friday is the day Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus before his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Jesus chose death to show hope, mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love for others.
On Good Friday, I received a thank you card from a gay man serving time in prison with whom I’ve corresponded with for about two years. There are many LGBTQ individuals in prison throughout the country. In general, abuse and violence is the norm for many in these environments and being identified as LGBTQ doesn’t help.
“Well, the journey is almost half over! Parole is the last leg of this journey,” he wrote in his card. “I’m so honored that I crossed paths with you. Your unconditional friendship was something I never expected to find while in a place where manipulation for ‘survival’ is an art form.”
He continued, “Thank you for your understanding and positive support. Know the cards, the newsletters, and encouraging words made a huge difference and impact on my life … I hope … I can change someone’s life as you’ve change [sic] mine!”
It’s in these real life experiences each of us is given empowering opportunities to connect with personal faith or spirituality in a meaningful way. One of the lessons Jesus shared was the need to break down walls. Everyone is an equal in the Christian community regardless of race, gender, wealth, conduct, and, of course, sexual orientation.
There are times in which faith is elusive for me. “Are my small efforts making a difference? Why bother?” The excerpt from the above card should dispel any doubt.
Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the injustice in the world. I take comfort in the words of Russian writer Tolstoy who observed in a short story, “You say you would do twice, ten times, a hundred times, more than you did. But if you did ten thousand times ten thousand more than all men have done, what would that have been in the work of God? A mere nothing! God’s work … is infinite. God’s work is you … your work will be neither small nor great, it will be God’s work.”
Put another way, think about the story of the starfish. Two friends are walking along a beach and hundreds of starfish are washing up and will soon die. One of the individuals picks up a starfish and throws it back into the ocean.
“What do you think that will accomplish when so many will die?” asked one friend to the other. “It made a difference to that starfish,” was the response.
My long-distance relationship with the inmate is also an example of how a modest amount of time and kindness can make a lasting impression. You never know how a handful of simple acts can plant a seed.
Although the inmate was very thankful, I too have been changed by our interactions. It’s humbling to hear the stories of the imprisoned and the personal challenges they may have faced before arriving in prison. I’m not excusing a person’s missteps. I try to understand without excusing bad behavior and acknowledge life can be cold, complicated, and make little sense.
His willingness to write and engage helped me learn more about myself. It drew me into deeper conversations about spirituality and how to best act and live my faith.
Living one’s faith, no matter what it is—Jewish, Pagan, Wiccan, Buddhism, Christian, Humanist, Muslim or other—requires the application of sacred lessons to everyday experiences. All great faiths have universal themes of joy, hope, love, kindness, compassion, and redemption. It’s what faith and spirituality, broadly defined, give us to share with one another.
*Paul is a corporate chaplain, seminary trained priest, and lawyer in greater Albany, NY. He’s also author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis.”