I was sitting on the platform at graduation last week. I was looking out on a sea of Mercerians who were about to be sent out from their alma mater to do exactly what the banners all over campus have been urging — change the world.
As I watched our graduates process across the platform, receive their diplomas and shake President William D. Underwood’s hand, I was overwhelmed by the massive potential for healing and hope, solving old problems and dreaming new dreams that could be realized by these graduates. I imagined them fanning out in every direction from this epicenter to every corner of Georgia and around the globe, eager to change the world and make it a happier, stronger, freer place.
Now, as I write these words to you, Mercer On Mission teams are launching out to serve in communities across the globe. They will be providing access to clean water, healing to diseased and wounded bodies, counseling for troubled minds and broken spirits, education and business opportunities to impoverished communities, prosthetic legs and hands to hundreds of amputees, and kindness and compassion to all kinds of refugees.
Several years ago, while our Mercer On Mission team was sitting in the lounge of a Vietnam airport, waiting to board our flight after fitting a large number of amputees with prosthetic legs, a stranger came up to our group and asked who we were and what we had been doing. After he learned about our work, he told us of an experience he had years before.
He was at the ticket counter in the Rome airport, getting ready to return to the U.S. He looked over his shoulder and, there, making her way through the airport, was Mother Theresa. He thought to himself how cool it was to have seen Mother Theresa. She walked on. He purchased his ticket and eventually took his seat on the plane. As he was settling in, he looked up and to his amazement there was Mother Theresa. She was on his flight. He tried not to stare, so he busied himself with his seat belt and tray table. But, again, he thought to himself that it was really incredible that he was sharing this flight with such a celebrity. And, then the unbelievable happened; Mother Theresa sat down in the seat next to him.
They exchanged the typical pre-flight pleasantries and greetings. After they were airborne, she resumed the conversation. She asked him, “So, what do you do … ?” Before the words were out of her mouth, he began to construct his impressive answer — his senior administrative title, the importance of his work and his stature in the company. He was going to brag to Mother Theresa (probably not a good idea) about his accomplishments. But, he wasn’t quick enough, and she finished her sentence, “ … that matters?”
He caught his anemic answer just before it slipped out of his mouth. He swallowed hard and realized he had no suitable reply to her probing question. He was well-prepared to expound on his notable professional achievements, but her question cut in a different direction that left him speechless. “What do you do that matters?”
The echo of that conversation often resonates in my mind and soul. It certainly doesn’t mean that I should try to be Mother Theresa. That wouldn’t fit me in so many different ways. But, I am not spared the point of her question. What am I doing that matters? What am I doing with my professional life that matters? What am I doing with my personal life that matters? What am I doing with the resources that have been placed into my hands that matters?
No two of us will answer the question the same way, but all of us, I hope, will be brave enough and wise enough to sit with that question for a while. Over the years, I have become increasingly convinced, that no matter our vocations or avocations, we can all do something that matters. It doesn’t happen automatically or easily. To do what matters requires attention and intention and often a healthy dose of effort, maybe even sacrifice. Shouldn’t what really matters make some demands of us?
If my friend had the opportunity, I wish he could have asked Mother Theresa a follow-up question. “Has it been worth it?” I wonder how she would have responded.
My hope is that we each find our own way of doing something that matters. And, I expect, in the end, we might say that it is the one thing that has given us the deepest joy.
So, what are you doing that matters?