When we set out to do something good that we fear may be scrutinized, criticized, or ridiculed, we may feel like we have to justify ourselves to onlookers, hoping that a greater understanding of our motives will prompt them to be more charitable in their judgment. At other times, we may think of calling a friend to see how they are doing, but then we ultimately decide against it, not wanting to interrupt their day with our—as we suppose—pointless chatter. Thus, we do nothing, thinking that the good we had in mind may be more of an inconvenience than a blessing. Unfortunately, we often fail in these cases to recognize that real good is always worth doing and that it never needs to be justified.
A short while ago, I was thinking about the widow who, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, cast her two mites into the treasury of the temple even as the men around her gave, at face value, vastly more generous and meaningful contributions. I’m not going to pretend that I know exactly what those funds were for, but it wouldn’t be hard to assume that her two mites didn’t make much of a difference to the bottom line. Surely, the Temple Mount would not have shut down if she hadn’t given her almost unnoticeable contribution. I say “almost unnoticeable” because, of course, that widow’s donation did not go unnoticed; the Savior of Mankind did notice, and He then said to His disciples, “[T]his poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasure: for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12:43-44).
By this, we can see that the scope of service clearly isn’t the measure of its validity. In the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the ancient prophet Alma teaches that “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” and that “by very small means the Lord…bringeth about the salvation of many souls” (Alma 37:6-7). We may not see the immediate effects of the small things that we do, but that does not make them worthless. Like honeybees, we can collectively perform our small kindnesses, working independently but with the unifying purpose of making the world a sweeter place. Or, like the tiny particles that deposit themselves layer-by-layer to form sandstone, the small and simple things that we do each day can, by their steady accretion, form a monument of goodness and faith in the life of another. Indeed, like ours, that widow’s contribution may have been small , but it drew the attention of the Lord of all Creation.
As I think more about that widow and her mites, though, I believe that there may be more to the story. I suppose that the lesson is not just one of how small acts can make a big difference, but it is also a lesson of how we should feel about the small and simple good we can do each day. How many of us with small musical talent see a more accomplished musician perform and then decide that we’ll stick to playing alone in a practice room, letting the other musician pick up our slack? I’m certainly guilty of holding back on certain occasions because I didn’t think that my contribution would measure up, but that is exactly what that mighty widow teaches us not to do. She approached the treasury of the temple with her two mites and no doubt saw the others pouring their wealth into the coffers, but, rather than be ashamed of the size of her offering, she boldly gave her contribution to the Lord. She didn’t compare her offering to the offerings of others, she didn’t apologize for not having more to give, and she didn’t decide that her offering was too small to be worth giving. She recognized the importance of giving what she had to give and trusted that it would be enough. What made her contribution worthy of the Savior’s notice was not its size; what made her contribution worthy of such attention was the stalwart faith and unwavering devotion with which made it. That same faith and that same devotion can transform our simple acts of kindness into noble acts of Christlike love—and those acts can draw heaven’s notice, lifting and refining us because we are willing to cast in what little we have to give.
Indeed, this is the greater message of the widow’s mite—that good is always worth doing and that we should never be ashamed to give what we have to offer because we fear it won’t measure up. Surely, those who do give what they have will be pleasantly surprised to see the cumulative effect of their goodness when they stand before the Savior and ask:
[W]hen saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee to drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
(Matt. 25: 37-40)
And then, to all those widows and widowers who were willing to cast in their mites, brighten another’s day with a simple gesture, or perform an unrecognized act of service, He will say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).