The Little Things
There was a little house with a little bathroom that had a little mirror and a little light above it. Somehow my family loved this little house. It gave us great joy both to have it, and to learn to make our lives work within it. Not only were we continually learning how to find joy in the littlest of things but I was actually beginning to see the joy itself—not just the things—as a gift; that is, on the good days.
On a particularly bad day, I was visiting a friend who was trying to encourage me as we discussed my current state of affairs. I was lamenting my rampant powerlessness. Fighting to right myself in a stormy sea, I had big needs, and I was looking for big change.
We nibbled on some very small, diet chocolate dessert snacks, and I thought aloud, “What if my ship of opportunity has sailed without me?” I knew this was not the case, but every once in a while, a person wonders these things.
“I know this sounds corny and cliché” said my friend, “but I really really feel that you are destined for great things.”
“I feel the same way, too” I said, “but what if this future greatness we’re vibe-ing is just the greatness in the eyes of God? What if I’m just meant to be great, as we all are, in the kingdom? What if I can hope for nothing more than that?”
(There was a sigh, a lopsided nose wrinkle, a slow motion head nod, and an eye roll—all from me—in the momentary silence). (More nibbling).
“Right, there’s that.”
A few weeks later, we had to buy some school supplies for our Kindergartener, and someone offered to help cover them. (We have reluctantly trained ourselves to say “yes” to any help). It was a modest gift, but the impact was huge. Just two days before, I had squandered away that same amount away in a pound of coarsely-ground caffeine therapy, and a two-week supply of my favorite loose leaf jasmine tea; yet with great care, a friend sacrificed to help make my life work with an amount I had casually tossed out in an attempt to nurse my “id”. Later in the week, after receiving the gift from my friend, when I again went about to quiet the day’s angst and buoy my state of mind—this time, hoping that internet browsing would do the trick—I distinctly felt a gentle prompting: “It’s the little things”, was the thought. At the end of the week, that silly, little, pesky, pregnant, convicting thought was still at the forefront of my mind, begging for some consideration.
Soon after that incident, Lance and I had the opportunity to get away together—just the two of us. There in the hotel room, I looked at myself under the blessing/curse of a big light in a big bathroom with a big mirror. I discovered two whiskers that were long enough to stir my morning tea. I reflected on my recent past, while examining my shiny whiskers, and I realized what a defeatist I’d become. What’s the use in cooking dinner when Lance will probably be called away at the last minute to something else this evening? What’s the point in making a budget when we don’t know what our income will be? Why attempt anything that requires focus when I’ll just be interrupted in fifteen seconds? What’s the use in telling a preschooler to get dressed now, when she’ll just take everything off and put on five other outfits between now and when we have to go? What’s the use in vacuuming, or making a to-do list, or talking, or looking for a job?
This isn’t me, or at least it didn’t used to be. I loved discipline. I loved plans. Lance once said that I loved planning an event more than I loved the event itself—big or small. So, looking at my reflection, I contemplated what I was to do with the idea of little things. Was I supposed to start taking back a “little” control and fight defeatism? Or was this fragment referring to my lack of appreciating the little things?
I finally walked away from the mirror, wondering how my friends had missed seeing two greyish hairs reaching straight out for them—perhaps even tickling them in the current of my breath as we’d exchanged words. Had they just forgotten to mention it? Anyway, I was prepared for God to go into detail about me still taking the little things for granted, or maybe remind me to take comfort in my seemingly small roles, or rebuke my dissatisfaction over the absence of big change.
“What of the ‘little things’, God?” I wondered when I could finally sit without threat to my moments of silence. And then came, “Why are you gratifying yourself—sustaining yourself—with little things?” It was a question or thought, presumably from God. “Uuuhhhhh…..” was my awesome answer.
In this context, “little things” were the powerless, dead-ended straws that I instinctually grab at in my small moments of opportunity to replete my dwindling supply of stamina. God was wanting me to examine the ways in which I feed myself—the seemingly small, inconsequential, neutral ways.
As I considered this, I searched the Bible in a thematic approach, for a small, under-the-radar verse which would shed some light on my fascination with these little things. I’m sure there are several verses to choose from, but they were too small for me to find, so I revised my search. It soon became impossible for me to ignore the big, famous, highly-charged Romans 8, which flings all kinds of truths out in rapid-fire fashion. One part that caught my eye was verse 5 and 6: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.”
One obvious problem is that I don’t always want what the spirit wants. I look to the quick, temporary therapies, or seek comfort in false hopes just because their fantasies are more natural to entertain, and then somehow I hope to go to bed less angry or more fulfilled than I was the day before.
Life is growth. It is movement that reaches for and thrives on a consistent source of nourishment. Life is occurring and life is also the result when this is happening. If Christ is our nourishment, then the knowledge of Himself is produced within us, which somehow converts to our wholeness and completeness. Peace is contentment and an absence of worry or anxiety; it is offered to us through our faith in the One who provides, as we trust that the nourishment He provides is sufficient. This could be our state of mind, our reality, if only it was controlled by the Spirit.
It’s no news flash that we long for abundance, yet we don’t appreciate anything when it is abundant. Opportunities to seek what the Spirit wants, and hopefully be nourished in the process, are abundant. Unfortunately, (way) more often than not, I choose not to appreciate these small and frequent opportunities in the same way that someone fromWashingtonmight not appreciate the rain. Perhaps this is also the reason why children don’t always appreciate their mothers. So wasn’t it a wondrous occasion the other day, when day my sweet daughter Gigi paid me a generous compliment (I think) shouting across the soccer field right as her game was beginning, “Mom! I’m not tired of you anymore!”
I read more scripture which included references to “little things”, and of course came across Luke 16:10 and Matthew 25:23. As you remember, in this parable, the “little things” refers to small tangible possessions. The idea is that if we do well with little things we will do well with big things and therefore, will be put in charge of much.
The Bible is full of parables. Jesus talks of fish, wine, bread and so on, yet we all know it they are metaphors. When Jesus talks of riches and money, it can be tempting to focus on the hopeful promise that if we are given a few possessions and use them wisely, then we are entitled to more, and can hope for a role of importance. Doing well with the intent of getting a reward is not the problem. The problem is that the rewards we seek are usually things we intend to use to elevate or fortify the flesh.
This parable feels much bigger when I consider it a reference to the gift of eternal life, or spiritual gifts, or our restoration by the Spirit. What if we used that very average-seeming spiritual gift with the intent of gaining abundant life? Or is my sinful nature so great that I view any spiritual gift as inadequate or irrelevant comparative to my human desires?
Hopefully the Spirit was there to rephrase my eye-rolling sighs of un-appreciation into prayers of longing for the great things in thekingdomofGod. It is a gift to have the desires of the Spirit. They are given to us. They are not hidden somewhere, waiting to be uncovered within our human nature if we just focus on it long enough. Yes, perhaps it is written in our core to want life and peace, but we are not naturally inclined to seek grace, humility and mercy as a means to go about obtaining it.
Miraculously and mercifully, I find myself in this moment praying for the gift of humility, that I might see the abundance of small opportunities as God’s great generosity. I pray for the gift of sight that I might see the desires I am to focus on, and for the gift of faith that I would trust that His desires and gifts are good for me. I was grateful for the small financial gift from my friend, and grateful that the ensuing gratitude nourished my soul. I was grateful for the reminder in that moment to treat the small things (and moments) with the utmost respect, and I was grateful for the perspective that, in fact, the gifts in my possession aren’t actually small. Not according to God, anyway. I can have this gratitude—not because of any ability I have to create it, much as I’d like to reason otherwise—because it is given to me. Something about the notion that we can only hope to receive, not self-create, produces a humility that God can occupy. Every good and perfect gift is from God.
By the way, remember what happened to the guy in Matthew who was too apathetic (or was it fearful?) to employ his gift? What a steep price to pay! In the end, it was not just an opportunity—it was a responsibility to make wise use of our gifts.
As chaos replaces order, and there are fewer opportunities to live off of the validation derived from the order that was dictated by my flesh, it can feel like the flesh itself is dying. As the hopes for my agenda are being defeated, it can literally feel like the life is getting sucked out of me. It is exhausting. It creates a great thirst. It can leave an ego gasping for air, and it can make a person tired enough to grab at the most easily accessible and instantly gratifying option, regardless of its actual effectiveness. Regarding the diversions I seek as a means of coping with reality—the opportunities to depart from the chaos and find something sustaining—I think God is gut-wrenched and heartbroken when we make a lifestyle, moment after moment, of believing that life comes from something other than a mind controlled by the Spirit.
I don’t think the goal is to have a perfect batting average, mostly because something corrupt happens within us when we view ourselves as flawless, or even capable of being so. I also don’t think that God intends to make a stumbling block out of a grain of sand, and I think God’s grace allows for a little wine and House Hunters International. But also, God gives with totality; He is present completely. It is possible to find Him and be nourished in the smallest moments. Let’s make ourselves open to be blessed and strengthened and matured by what lies in the common place—that one place that is everywhere.
The way we go about the little moments reveals the biggest part of who we are. In this next moment, let’s try looking for, affirming, and reflecting what the Spirit wants. Imagine this being our nature! And if we are given life and peace as a prize, what a wonderful thing—regardless if the moment in which we found it was big or small!