I often complain that when I meet with a client, I’m only allowed fifteen minutes to complete the WIC certification process. Sometimes, if the client is disinterested, or in a big hurry, or has terribly unruly children who won’t be quiet and allow for conversation, 15 minutes can seem like a long time. I can struggle to pull information from a non-receptive client and feel that any nutrition guidance I want to share falls on uninterested ears, so those 15 minutes may shrink to 10 minutes that can feel more like 100 minutes.
But more often than not, when a client with whom I meet has some real concerns, whether those concerns regard nutrition or just difficult life issues, fifteen minutes never seems like enough, especially when I consider the fact that I may never see that particular client again. Our WIC clinic is large with a caseload of about 3200 clients seen each month. We employ seven nutritionists, only two of whom are full-time. So, more than the fact that fifteen minutes can feel more like five minutes when there is so much need in the lives of some of our clients, the really difficult part is the fact that we rarely see the same client twice. I may never know if the drug-addicted mother was ever able to quit using drugs once and for all. I may never know if the baby who struggled to latch on to his mother’s breast was ever able to get the hang of breastfeeding and grow to be healthy and strong with his mother’s breast milk. I may never know if the homeless family ever found shelter, if the abused women left her boyfriend, if the woman struggling with an unwanted pregnancy ever came to a happy acceptance of the life growing within her.
I shared these struggles with a friend recently who wisely reminded me that although I may never see the results of those fifteen minutes spent with my WIC clients, I can affect more good than I may ever know. She encouraged me by telling me that the people who Jesus helped during his years of ministry often met him in passing only. The many sick and suffering people that he cured never saw him again after the healing took place. But the fact remains that once Jesus touched their lives, they were forever changed for the better.
Fifteen minutes may not seem very long. I may not ever hear a “Thank you! Your words of encouragement changed my life and I am now eating better, feeling better and living better!” But I trust that I can and do make a difference without ever hearing those words of affirmation. In his book Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire, Joseph Langford writes: “Beyond whatever material assistance she gave to the poor, she made it a point to, first of all, sit, listen and comfort. She would spend time simply being present with the poor, face to face and heart to heart with those who had no one…No government program could give the gift of presence-only individual hearts. Only the human heart can communicate the heart of God.” So I can trust that as long as I am willing to listen with an open heart and to look for Jesus living within the people I meet each day, I will make a difference beyond nutrition counseling and healthy foods. I will bring the heart of God, however briefly, to the hearts of the suffering women and children I meet each day.