My nine-year-old son Alex and I have a pact to make friends with just about every service provider we meet. We visit the same places frequently, so we see the same clerks, servers, cashiers, and lifeguards on a regular basis. We learn about their families, their ailments, and their future plans. Most of them are happy to talk. I think it breaks up their day when it’s not just business as usual. But not every service provider is naturally gregarious. Every now and again, we encounter a more stoic individual. I can relate to them because I’m a pretty serious person by nature. So, when we do find someone who is harder to get to know, Alex and I pace ourselves, not overwhelming them, but gradually getting to know them.
One of our friends at a gas station was an extremely hard nut to crack. I didn’t think he liked us at all, but we kept trying. Then one day, when I went into the gas station by myself, he asked, “where’s your sidekick?” I knew then that we’d crossed the bridge to becoming friends and that has been true ever since. Another woman started work at a drive-thru I visit for my morning soda fix. She didn’t seem interested in speaking beyond the exchange necessary to complete the transaction. I felt sure that I would wear her down after a while, but one morning, I was in a bad mood and felt I just couldn’t expend the energy to be overly friendly. That was when she surprised me. She handed me the drink and asked in a cheery tone, “see you tomorrow?” She’d noticed that I wasn’t my normal self and made an effort to pull me out of my funk. It worked because I felt seen and comforted by her words. We were on our way to becoming friendly.
In the New Testament, Jesus used the imagery of a mustard seed a couple of times. The most familiar is when he said if we “have faith as small as a mustard seed,” we can move mountains. (Matt. 17:20-21). But there is another instance when Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matt. 13:31-32).
Faith strong enough to move a mountain is a hard concept to get my head around. But the kingdom of heaven being like a mustard seed that turns into a shrub big enough to host aa flock of birds makes more sense to me. We can all plant little seeds of kindness every day, everywhere we go. We may not know whether our small gestures will flourish into something more or not, but our efforts are still important. It may take time for the seeds we plant to show any growth, but if we don’t try to reach out to others, it’s possible that no one will. Some people may go days without seeing a smile directed at them, hearing a nice word, or feeling as though another person cares about them.
As we go about our daily lives, let us spread compassion in small ways. Even if we only interact with others for a moment, God can use our words and deeds to remind them that God loves them and that they can rest in God’s comfort just like the birds who perch in the tree sprung forth from the tiny mustard seed.