The Gift of a Smile

My eighth grade Confirmation teacher paid me a compliment that left me confused until six years ago. We had class in the basement of our church. It was cold and damp down there, but our teacher’s spirit warmed up the place every Wednesday night. We were discussing faith. I offered my thoughts on what faith meant to me. I can’t recall what it was that I said exactly, but I recall my teacher’s reaction. She dropped her pen and her tablet on the table. Her tablet had  “J.M.J.” printed on the top of it. I asked her what it meant once when I noticed that she wrote it on the top of every page. She told me it meant “Jesus, Mary, Joseph” and she wrote it on everything to honor them. She stared at me. So did my classmates. I felt uncomfortable. Then she said, “Julie, do you realize how much you remind me of Mother Teresa?”  I was thirteen years-old at the time.  All I knew about Mother Teresa was that she worked in Calcutta, was the “Saint of the Gutters,” received the Nobel Peace Prize, and most importantly (to a teenager), she was very homely. I knew that Mother Teresa had a very broad, imperfect smile like me. I felt my face turn bright red and I sank down in my folding chair as I realized that this was probably why my teacher was comparing me to a gutter woman. I quietly said, “Thank you.”


Over the years I would be reminded of my Confirmation teacher’s comment and I would ponder why she made the comparison.  In 2010 I finally decided to do some research on Mother Teresa.  The first thing I stumbled on was Mother Teresa’s collection of quotes.  I was – and still am – blown away by what I read. I was shocked to see that our philosophy about life and faith is so similar. I am not vain enough to actually put myself anywhere near the same league as this amazingly giving woman; I could never even consider doing the selfless acts of love that she did with her life.  But, I was stunned to see that many of the things she has said, are things that I have said and written over the years – some of them verbatim!  I have not felt as kindred in my musings about life with anyone as I suddenly did with that woman. A few years ago, I thought that so much of what Mother Teresa said sprang from human decency and basic kindness, and that really, anybody could say those things . . . but after the past eighteen months that I’ve experienced among some of my fellow countrymen who were inspired by the rhetoric of the presidential election to spread hate toward their fellow citizens, I no longer think that everyone is capable of producing humane sentiments.

There is something about Mother Teresa’s collection of thoughts and her syntax, and the way she addressed issues that resonates with my spirit. I feel as if we must have the same voice speaking to us, giving us these similar thoughts about life and humanity. I wish my Confirmation teacher was still alive so that I could tell her, “Thank you so much!” for the very flattering compliment.

Here are some of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes:

—I think I am more difficult than critical.

—It is impossible to walk rapidly and be unhappy.

—I know that God will not give me anything I can’t handle.  I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.

—Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless.

—God doesn’t require that you succeed; he only requires that you try.

—Loneliness is the most terrible poverty.

—One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.

—If you judge people you have no time to love them.

—We are all pencils in the hand of God.

—We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness.  God is the friend of silence.  See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grow in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence . . . we need silence to be able to touch souls.

—If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

—Peace begins with a smile.

—Every time you smile at someone it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.

I wish everyone in my country had a smile like Mother Teresa’s.


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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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