You are what you do

A common question asked of people in social circles, especially when people are meeting each other for the first time, is, “What do you do?” A normal answer to the question would be to say that “I am an engineer or a doctor or a lawyer or entrepreneur or musician or actor or politician.” Given the myriad new vocations available to people, it would hardly surprise anyone to receive a reply that says, “I am a movement therapist or a sound engineer or survival coach or garbage expert.”

So, is that all that people do? Work?

No. Not really. A large mass of people actually worry. A lot others fear. Several more suffer. Which explains why, there is so much suffering, so much disease, so much anxiety and so little peace, love and humanity in the world!

Think about it. How beautiful it will be if we actually heard any of the following answers to that question__what do you do?__:

  • I serve
  • I spread cheer and happiness
  • I champion peace
  • I care
  • I love

Ironically, in an increasingly, wildly, virally, connected world, while the distances between continents are shrinking, the distances between people are only growing. When people are so busy worrying and suffering, running a rat race to earn a living, where is the time they have to live, let alone serve, care and love?

But it is possible to live, serve, care and love. Mother Teresa taught the world how this was possible through her Life and her work. I remember a 1989 interview that she gave TIME magazine’s Edward Desmond. Desmond had asked Mother some unusual questions. And she answered with remarkable candor and love. Her answers serve as her key teachable points of view. Here are some excerpts relevant even today and, more so, in the context we are discussing.

TIME: Does the fact that you are a woman make your message more understandable?

Mother Teresa:I never think like that.

TIME: But don’t you think the world responds better to a mother?

Mother Teresa:People are responding not because of me, but because of what we’re doing. Before, people were speaking much about the poor, but now more and more people are speaking to the poor. That’s the great difference. The work has created this.

TIME: Humble as you are, it must be an extraordinary thing to be a vehicle of God’s grace in the world.

Mother Teresa:But it is His work. I think God wants to show His greatness by using nothingness.

TIME: You are nothingness?

Mother Teresa:I’m very sure of that.

TIME: You feel you have no special qualities?

Mother Teresa:I don’t think so. I don’t claim anything of the work. It’s His work. I’m like a little pencil in His hand. That’s all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used. In human terms, the success of our work should not have happened, no? That is a sign that it’s His work, and that He is using others as instruments – all our Sisters. None of us could produce this. Yet see what He has done.

TIME: Is materialism in the West a serious problem?

Mother Teresa:I don’t know. I have so many things to think about. I pray lots about that, but I am not occupied by that. Take our congregation for example, we have very little, so we have nothing to be preoccupied with. The more you have, the more you are occupied, the less you give. But the less you have the more free you are. Poverty for us is a freedom. It is not a mortification, a penance. It is joyful freedom. There is no television here, no this, no that. This is the only fan in the whole house. It doesn’t matter how hot it is, and it is for the guests. But we are perfectly happy.

TIME: How do you find rich people then?

Mother Teresa:I find the rich much poorer. Sometimes they are more lonely inside. They are never satisfied. They always need something more. I don’t say all of them are like that. Everybody is not the same. I find that (kind of) poverty hard to remove. The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.

TIME: What are your plans for the future?

Mother Teresa:I just take one day. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not come. We have only today to love Jesus.

Mother Teresa’s answers actually awaken us to a whole new opportunity spectrum, a new possibility. Which is, to be an instrument in Life’s hand, to serve a higher purpose, to touch another Life and make a difference. If you take stock of the amount of time you spend worrying about and berating your circumstances or fearing yet-to-be-born consequences, you will discover just how much of your Life you have wasted and continue to waste. If you are feeling an emptiness suffocate you, it is because what you do day in day out has stopped being meaningful. Being a bread-winner and provider is not the only thing you are both capable of and created on this planet for. There’s more you can do. The spirit of Mother Teresa’s Life can guide you if you want it to. You don’t always have to invest an entire lifetime serving others. But you can make your lifetime meaningful by devoting some of your time daily or weekly or even monthly, to eradicating the hunger for love and understanding in your circle of influence. Instead of being obsessed with earning, providing for and protecting your flock, you can spread your wings, embrace a few causes close to your heart and offer yourself and your time to create value among them.  

Then you will find your response to the “What do you do?” question far more answer-worthy. This is how you learn to love Life and live it fully. This was the message and spirit of Mother Teresa’s Life. This Women’s Day, celebrate that spirit. Do create value, do touch a Life, do wipe a tear, do feed a hungry soul, do educate a child, do smile at a stranger__do make a difference. Because, remember, you are what you do. If you worry, you will be worry. If you suffer, you will be the suffering. If you love, you will be the love. And if you deliver happiness, you will be happy!