I stirred at the now-familiar sound of a baby crying plaintively. Behind the partitioning curtain, I could hear his mother’s despondent, weary voice trying to soothe him. I was fifteen, and I was in the children’s ward of the hospital after having undergone a tonsillectomy the day before. Contrary to expectations, there had been some complications, and now the pain in my throat and ears made it impossible for me to sleep deeply. I pressed the ice pack more tightly to my throat and face while I watched this exhausted, careworn mother pacing the narrow aisle as she rocked her tiny, weeping son.
His pitiful cries were somewhat muffled by the bandage above his mouth. The day before, I had overheard his mother discussing with a nurse how her son had been born without an upper lip. At only four months old, this was already his third surgery. He would need to undergo at least three more surgeries before his first birthday, with each surgery building upon the previous one to gradually form an upper lip.
My mind went back to visiting hours the evening before, when his father had come. He appeared to be a construction worker and had obviously come straight from work. I watched as he lovingly cradled his son and fed him by pouring a little milk into his mouth and then very gently shaking his head to help him swallow it. Without an upper lip, his son couldn’t nurse or drink from a bottle like other babies.
I was brought back to the present as a nurse came in for her rounds. I reached for the fresh ice pack she offered and watched her bend over the baby to change his bandage. Later, as his cries subsided and he drifted into a restless sleep, she turned to go. But then she paused. “It must be very difficult,” she said softly, touching his mother’s arm. “Oh yes,” came the reply, in a voice full of pain. Looking away, her voice broke as she went on. “I often ask myself why … why I brought him into the world like this!”
As the nurse’s footsteps faded down the hall, the mother’s words echoed in my ears. I thought about how much God must want her to know that He loves, cares, and never condemns; that He is near and understands. I couldn’t shake the longing to tell her. But what could I say? How could I say anything at all? My voice had been temporarily reduced to a raspy whisper, and speaking would be very painful. But as I turned the idea over in my mind, a little chorus I’d learned as a child suddenly returned to me:
Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light,
Like a little candle burning in the night;
In this world of darkness, we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine. [[ “Jesus Bids Us Shine,” by Susan B. Warner (1868)]]
This is my corner now, I thought, looking around the dimly lit room. Still unsure of what I would say and how I’d say it, I put down my ice pack and slipped out of bed. Soon we were talking. My voice was scratchy, my words were simple and a bit clumsy, and my face flushed with my usual shyness. But as we conversed, the pain and despair in her eyes gradually gave way to peace and faith. When we prayed together, I realized with awe that God had used me, His little candle, to bring His light to a hurting heart.
Many years have passed, but I often think back on that experience. Each of us has a little corner—a family, a workplace, a school, a neighborhood. It’s so easy to feel small and to doubt that we can make a difference. But little is much if God is in it. And God is indeed in each of us.1 We are His candles, each set in a corner of this dark world to shine uniquely for Him. I pray that I will be faithful to light up my corner, whenever and however I can.