Wisdom comes from the strangest places.
I have just finished reading my latest novel, The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, which is admittedly a children’s book that the Toddler and I enjoyed before naptime, but there’s more substance to it than in a slew of recent grown-up, top seller fare.
Briefly, a happy train, carrying dolls and blocks and books and apples and oranges and cheese, is on it way to the town full of little girls and boys, waiting for these toys, when the engine breaks down.
Led by a stuffed clown, the toys beg passing engines to help push them over the top. They are successively rebuffed by a shiny new passenger vehicle and a freight train, both of whom — while they are more than strong enough to perform the task and would be little inconvenienced in doing so — are too important to concern themselves with Tinker-toys and fruit.
Help comes eventually from a small blue engine who readily agrees to do what she can, but is unsure of whether she is strong enough to do so.
Surely you’re familiar with the whole “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” message? That’s what the Little Blue Engine says to herself, over and over, as she strains and struggles and tugs and pulls herself, and the broken train, up the hill, and it’s not a spoiler to let you know that she DID it, she DID it, Hurray!
While this is a great encouragement, it’s not the only point of the story, and what struck me was the attitude of the insignificant, ordinary, humble yet pleasant blue engine compared to that of the other two engines, the ones with important, meaningful jobs.
So important were these jobs that the ones holding them had no time for the least of these — fragile, weak, or hurting people — think, children, but don’t stop there — we have chronically unemployed, discouraged people; homeless; disabled; the poor that are always with us; the very old — in short, anyone who isn’t operating at top speed, full efficiency, heavy engine calibre, and when they intrude on those of us who are, we don’t have time for them, because we’re busy doing important things.
The other day I escaped to the library for my surreptitious, furtive fix of People Magazine. I was closeted away in a remote room when in walked Adelaide, a significantly developmentally disabled woman whom I know slightly through a mutual friend.
Her smile of recognition was accompanied by a loud “HELLO!” and a hug, and I knew that I was done with People Magazine for that week, but darned if I didn’t keep trying. To my credit, I interspersed actual conversation and interest in Adelaide with glances down at the magazine; the grown up in me told me to focus on the person while the child snatched quick peeks down at emaciated women stuffed and taped into $10,000 gowns. Sixty/forty — the grown up prevailed. I know I can do better than this, and, fortunately, I know that I will have more opportunities to improve my score.
Like most Christians, I am constantly asking myself, “What can I do to serve God?” and like most human beings, I make the answer more complicated than it needs to be. In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned — in effect, the fragile components of our society who don’t “contribute” the way that the strong, important ones do, and says, ” . . . whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me.”
It’s that easy?
And it’s that hard?
There are a lot of least of these people in my life, and there’s no guarantee that I won’t become one of them myself one day. If we’re adults, we’ve all been children, and if we live long enough, we’ll become very, very old. In between, anything can happen to temporarily or permanently knock us out of the group of quick, busy, effective, in-control people who start each day with a list that only gets longer as the day goes on.
And when that happens, we find ourselves no longer important in the eyes of the world around us, but mercifully very important to the Creator of the universe, so important, that one of the major ways we can serve, and please Him, is to focus on least of these and accord them our time, attention, and love, wherever we are, and however we can.
Best of all, we don’t have to be a Shiny New Passenger Engine or Big Strong Freight Train to do so. Small, humble, and ordinary, we Little Blue Engines can do more than we think we can.
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