The Power of Little Things

It’s the little things.

Years ago, when I was in a particularly difficult relationship, I had a moment of insight that changed the way I looked at life. “It’s the little acts of selfishness that kill a relationship.” And by extension, “it’s the little acts of kindness, love, that build a relationship.”

The principle is true for most things in life, I think, not just relationships. Explosions happen. Major blow ups, let downs, conflict and crisis happen. They can be devastating. Same for good things. We all love it when something major happens for the good in our lives. I think, though, that those big things tend to be more rare than the simple, little, everyday actions that we do that contribute to the overall direction of our lives.

And, I think that’s how God works, too. We tend to think of God moving in dramatic ways — and sometimes God does — but I think God tends to work thru simple little things that accumulate over time.

This week’s lectionary reading contains Jesus’s teaching about the Kingdom of God, comparing it to a mustard seed or to seeds that a farmer scatters. English doesn’t serve us well here when translating that religious idea: the Kingdom of God. It is not a place, a physical territory like we might think of a “kingdom”. It’s more the quality of “being king,” the exercise of being king; “rule” might be better. Or, more simply, it’s what God does and how he does it. So when Jesus says “the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven) is like …”, he’s really saying, “this is how God works …”

And he points us to slow, subtle, gradually working little things. A mustard seed, tiny and insignificant in itself, but when planted, grows into a hearty bush that birds can shelter in. Or like a farmer that scatters seed in Springtime. Nothing happens immediately. The crops don’t grow overnight. In fact, the gospel reads “Night and day, whether the farmer sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. And As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Like we read last week in the story of God moving in the Garden of Eden like a cool breeze, I think this is how God prefers to work. In subtle, gradual, not flashy or dramatic ways. And notice that it’s a process. When the grain begins to germinate, it produces first a tender stalk, then the head of the grain, and later as it matures, the full kernel in the head. It’s a gradual process. Like elsewhere, where Jesus compares it to a little yeast that gradually works its magic through a lump of dough.

The magic, the power, is in the slow working of little things.

When we’re in the middle of chaos, it’s hard to focus on the little things. But often that is all we can actually deal with. One little thing at a time. One tiny mustard seed planted, or a handful of tiny seeds scattered on the ground that we hope will take root, that we hope will grow into a bountiful harvest.

That should actually give us a bit of hope. We may not be able to change the world. We may not be able to totally fix the mess we’ve made of certain things in our life. And we may not get to see flashy and dramatic acts of divine intervention. But God is moving, slowly, gradually, little by little thru a tried and true process. “The Kingdom of God is like — God acts like — a seed planted…” Our job is to scatter those little seeds, to do our part, and then hold on to hope as we wait for the outcome.

Grace and peace to you as you patiently, hopefully scatter some good little things …

ref: Mark 4:26-34