Poorest of the Poor

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Several times in high school and college, I worked with Mother Teresa’s nuns, the Missionaries of Charity. Five minutes with these women and it’s clear that they are so full of love for Jesus that they’re able to shower that love on everyone they meet.

The sisters are known for serving the Poorest of the Poor. They go into the worst parts of the biggest cities and they care for the dying and the destitute – those with nowhere else to turn and with no one else who cares. And they serve these people with a smile.

During my experiences with these sisters, volunteering in their summer camps and soup kitchens and hospice, I was inspired to love. Just being around these sisters made me want to serve others; it seemed so easy.

Until one morning in the Bronx. At the soup kitchen that morning, my job was to serve small powdered donuts to the homeless men coming off the street for a meal. I was handing out the donuts with a smile when one of the men refused the donut I served.

“I don’t want a broken donut,” he said. “I want a good one.”

He wouldn’t take the donut! I was amazed. Here was a man who might not eat again until he came back the next day – refusing food! I turned to the sister in charge and waited for her to bark. (The sisters are full of love but also don’t take flack.)

The sister smiled, took the broken donut and replaced it with a whole one. And the man unceremoniously moved down the line.

That moment, years ago, taught me so much. A split-second decision by this holy woman to replace a perfectly good donut showed me how to love on God’s terms – and not my own. It was a lesson in treating others with kindness – even when I think I have the right not to.

Many times, when I think about serving others, it seems so easy – when the acts of kindness are appreciated. It’s not that I want accolades (or even a thank you note). But it is nice, when we love others, to know our service helps, that it makes a difference.

This time of the year, as we move towards the celebration of Christmas, I’m reminded of the poorest of the poor. Part of that, of course, is because Jesus came to us that way. And during this season, there are so many opportunities to donate and share. My boys were so excited last week to choose the angels off the tree at church, the chance to provide gifts for those who will otherwise have none.

But the truth is that kind of loving is easy. It’s not hard to go out and buy a gift for someone. We buy what we can afford (as we should), and we share what we have with others. It’s a wonderful service that really only costs us financially.

But when we’re called to be Jesus to the Poorest of the Poor, it doesn’t just mean to those with less stuff than us. We must be Jesus to everyone – strangers, friends and family alike.

I think about all the interactions I’ll have over the next few weeks, and how sometimes there are those relationships that can be strained. There are interactions that will be a stretch, where I’ll have to die to myself a bit, have to be loving and selfless when I don’t necessarily want to be.

But I’m called to love – even when it hurts.

Being Jesus to others means going the extra mile – not necessarily by doing more or providing more, but by loving more. It’s choosing patience with a family member. It’s choosing to assume the best when you can’t figure out why in the world someone would say such a thing. It’s smiling when you want to clench your jaw.

“I have found the paradox,” says Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, “that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love.”

And it’s remembering that we are all the Poorest of the Poor, from time to time. Isn’t it healing when we are loved unconditionally by those in our path. 1188″ ?



  1. Thanks for the lovely post for this Advent season…I appreciate hearing the ‘same’ thing from very different sources (your post reminds me of pentecostal missionary Heidi Baker’s preaching).

  2. How absolutely wonderful! Thank you for being so encouraging. It’s so easy for us to stand on our pedestals from time to time and point fingers, when like you said ‘we are all the poorest of the poor from time to time’. How true! I had to chuckle at your lesson in ‘treating others with kindness-even when I think I have the right not to’. Oh how true this is for me as well. Thank you for sharing today! 🙂

  3. Journey of Truth says:

    Thank you for this lovely post, Rachel. I shall be sharing this with my family at dinner on Sunday. And with friends. My neighbour has a cousin who is a sister of charity. She just went to D.C. to see sisters into the community not long ago. Wouldn’t that be neat to see!

    Peaceful Advent and Merry Christmas.

  4. This is lovely. I’m going to share this post on my blog for friends and family alike.

    God Bless,

  5. I needed this reminder more this week than you can imagine. Bless you, Rachel.
    Amanda M.

  6. Lovely. And I enjoyed your article on hospitality too in The Word among us..

  7. happy appy wife says:

    Very lovely and beautifully written. Rachel, your words always inspire me to be a better person. Thank you for loving us, your readers!

  8. hypatia 370 says:

    Vunderbar! Thank you for this wonder-fully expressed message, Rachel. (my friends and family are thanking me as if I wrote it.)I think there’s a shared spirit in the passage I’ve quoted below, don’t you? I use it to remind me of the value of small offerings and finding God in the spaces:

    “It requires less grace to be a martyr for Christ on a public stage than to be kind and considerate in the familiar intercourse of domestic life, or to maintain a guileless integrity in the ordinary transactions of life… Little love can perform great actions, but it requires great love to present small offerings, and to devote every moment and task of our life to God.” ~ Christian Science Standard of April 25, 2001

  9. It is healing when we are loved unconditionally.
    This column comes at just the right time.

    thank you.
    Merry Christmas!

  10. What a great post. I linked it on my blog for more people to enjoy.

  11. I’ve lurked here before, but never posted a comment. I wanted to tell you that this story provided me with a real “light bulb” moment after I read it yesterday. I thought about this post a lot, and it hit me that I have a chance to do this very thing on a daily basis, and it’s love. I’ve heard many talks, homilies, etc about we are to love and die to ourselves, but your experience enabled me to put it in perspective and see what it is Christ calls me to do daily. To love. To be selfless. To die to myself, as you say. Each time today when I felt myself want to be annoyed, or slighted, or aggrivated by some small thing, I thought of this nun that you spoke of, and changed my thought process. And with it, has come much peace and a happy house. Thank you!

  12. Thank you so much for sharing that, Jen. And thanks for all the other kind comments.