My granddaughter Brittany has just turned 5, and I learn something new from her every day. If we don't see each other, she calls to say, "Hi" - and sharpen my appreciation of life's adventures. Ten minutes with her, and I know that life is not so much about paying attention to more, but paying more attention.
There's not much stillness or silence in her everyday life, but she knows how to "shush" when she hears a cardinal sing, or how to be still when a butterfly thinks about settling on her arm. And it's never a good thing to rush her when she's thinking deeply about something - whether it's what to put on her gift "wish list" or "What's 20 + 20?"
This past summer Brittany's parents opened their home to a Polish university student, Ania, who earned her board and lodging by doing some domestic chores while she studied landscape design and became acquainted with American culture.
Ania had the guest room down the passage from Brittany's bedroom, and in the early days Brittany kept a watchful, curious eye on the first "foreigner" she'd ever observed close up.
Ania tells me that one evening after she'd called home to Poland, Brittany saw her come out of her room with moist eyes. Immediately, Brittany put out a hand and said shyly, "Ania, please don't worry. I could be your sister, and my mummy could be your mummy."
It hadn't taken long for Brittany to spot that Ania was homesick and that she needed whatever comfort Brittany could offer. Spontaneously, and with an unspoiled, trusting heart, Brittany gave what she had to give - unadulterated, unconditional love.
Brittany knew that she could lose nothing by sharing what had already come to mean most to her in life - family bonding. Through consistent daily expressions of that love - receiving and giving back - she had learned her first lessons in shaping relationships. She had discovered a proven refuge from any disturbance.
"Love is reflected in love," wrote Mary Baker Eddy more than a century ago in her spiritual interpretation of the Bible prayer "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matt. 6:12). It was as though Brittany had discovered that truth before she'd even opened a copy of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," where Mrs. Eddy's explanation of the entire Lord's Prayer is given (pages 16-17). She'd already had many experiences of love in action. Instinctively, she knew that God loves spontaneous, happy, undemanding, and fearless givers.
The Apostle Paul said that because of God's limitless gifts, "[He] is able to make all grace abound to [us], so that in all things at all times, having all that [we] need, [we] will abound in every good work" (II Cor. 9:8, New International Version). No scrimping. No hesitation. Just overflowing goodness.
But Paul makes it clear in that chapter that God gives people those abundant spiritual resources to use and invest for Him. These are not to be hidden or carelessly squandered. People should wisely and trustingly cultivate them in order to produce more resources. When they invest in that way, Paul said, God provides them with even more to give in His service.
When looking for ways to contribute to that service, I try to take my cue from a hymn that calls for
"Open hearts and willing hands,
Eager ears, expectant, joyful,
Ready for [God's] right commands."
The next verse says that when living securely in God's presence, His sons and daughters naturally feel impelled to bless others:
"Seeing only Thy creation,
We can share Thy happiness,
Share Thy joy and spend it freely."
("Christian Science Hymnal," No. 58).
Though the full meaning and implications of those life lessons haven't yet been articulated by Brittany, it's encouraging to see her already practicing some of them. And her example certainly prods me into listening for God's "commands," whatever I might be doing.
Sometimes I think I'd be doing well if I could achieve even a fraction of Brittany's empathy and love. No wonder Jesus so readily embraced the innocence and trust of little children and held them up as an example to his followers (see Matt. 18:1-6). And I suspect that Ania, who recently returned to Poland, feels that way, too - and is carrying an enriched concept of love (and family) back home with her.