Little things matter. A bunch of little things can make a difference, especially if it’s all the candy we eat in the weeks leading up to and following Halloween, which bumps into the weeks leading up to and following Thanksgiving…and then there’s all the Christmas parties… you get the idea. All the fun-sized, little snacks and treats can just plain add up on the scale. Little things matter.
But little things can add up unexpectedly in big and good ways, too. The little things we do to take care of our physical, emotional and spiritual health can make a difference. The peaceful inhale and exhale of a contemplative prayer or meditation practice can sustain us when times are stressful. The little things we do for others can give comfort or show appreciation.
There are lots of little ways to make a big difference in the lives of people that we work, play and live with.
My former neighbor and friend, Deidra Riggs, wrote a book called Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are. Deidra found herself living in Nebraska, having moved here for her husband’s job, but not liking it one bit. Right where she was, was not where she wanted to be.
“I started planning my escape. I wanted out. Not through. As far as I could tell, Nebraska was the very worst place to live in all the world”, she writes.
Be still my native-Nebraskan, lover-of-country-drives, loyal-to-the-bone-Cornhusker heart. I lived next door to Deidra for a few years before I realized how much she had struggled to adapt to The Good Life in the early years. By the time I learned that Nebraska hadn’t been so good for her, she had started to see a new landscape before her and within her.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. -Marcel Proust
In Every Little Thing, Deidra explores how we can limit ourselves by having an idea of the way things should be. We plot and plan, fight and sometimes flee from situations that don’t fit into the way we had envisioned our life. Arms flailing in the air, we frantically tread water that we would rather not be in. It’s only when we surrender, making a deliberate decision to rest in stormy waters, that we learn to just float.
These words and image, “Just Float”, came to me in a dream when I was experiencing many worries and concerns (it would become the inspiration for a SoulCollage® card). My dreaming self was telling me to release these worries, or to at least let them lie for a while. Not an easy practice to surrender when one wants to manage, fix or control.
It is a process of learning to trust. You will not sink; you can relax into the water that will hold you. This surrendering is a practice of learning to trust—which is the only way to navigate the often turbulent waters of life.
Deidra writes, “We build up our trust in God over days and weeks and months and years by following him through one small event after another after another. We have done this trust-building thing with family members and with friendships and with our spouses and our bosses and employees. Over time, in all of these relationships, the trust—worthiness of each of the significant people in our lives has been tested, through different situations and circumstance…One small exchange after another helps us know where we can find our footing. We craft a history together, and it tells a tale of faithfulness and love and trustworthiness.”
Our perspective is limited; we don’t always see the big picture or see clearly. “We see the darkness and we forget even darkness is light to God”, she writes.
Surrender implies that it isn’t necessary for us to see in the dark. Actually it’s necessary for us NOT to see in the dark to really build trust. Blinded, taking baby steps, with hands grasping for a wall that may or may not be in front of us, we feel our way through a darkened room. Maybe this is enough. We don’t need to feel confident and secure, happy or comfortable; we can surrender to the darkness that God will use anyway.
“All those years in Nebraska, I kept my back to the wilderness, searching for the light in all the wrong places, when God was right there in the wilderness—visible in the cloud….Many times God’s invitations are not at all what we’d expect them to be. They don’t look the way we thought they would. They often look risky and windy and icy and cold, and they take us to the very furthest reaches of everything we think we know or want to know. And then they stretch us further than that. Beyond our self-imposed limits. We see the darkness and we forget even darkness is light to God.”
This knowing has to come from our own experiences and practice, our own fight with the waters and stumbling in the darkness.
Building trust takes time. In Surrender to Surprise, I wrote, “It’s hard to give up control. But one of the things I LOVE about getting older is that you start to see a track record, evidence that God and life work in mysterious ways–and it’s okay. I’ve had enough sweet surprises, Divine coincidences, God moments, to know that God can write a much better plan than I can ever conceive, that the stories of my life are written better than I could have ever scripted, that I have been surprised and delighted (sometimes disappointed, but that’s okay too) by relationships, events, feelings, insights…..that I declare, “I SURRENDER!”
Having confidence that God works even in the darkness takes faith—surrendering, sometimes flailing around, even clutching the nearest person or life preserver, but eventually by surrendering, we float. In the calm, our vision changes; we see how things actually do change over time; or they don’t change, but look differently.
We don’t have to wait for different circumstances to start making a difference.
It’s about God using Every Little Thing for your own transformation and for the good of others. We can make a difference, no matter who we are or where we live, whether we are happy about it or not.
We can’t always change our circumstances, be we can allow our circumstances to change us. If we practice surrender, we can be transformed by any experience. We see our situation differently, with new eyes when we surrender ourselves to the truth—that we are here to make a difference right where we are.
God will use us in our present moment.
After years of trying to fight or flee The Good Life, Deidra writes,
“Nothing had changed about Nebraska….but spending time in the middle of the wilderness had changed me. Isn’t that the way it goes? God loves us too much to leave us where he finds us…the glory of God is in the wilderness. As much as we want to resist it, in the wilderness of our lives, God works to transform us more and more into the image of his Son and a reflection of his character.”
Seeing our landscape differently helps us see we don’t need to go somewhere else to be doing God’s work, to be living our purpose, to be making a difference, to be happy. Surrendering to our current situation actually gives us the freedom to see how we can be doing great work right where we are.
“Be great in little things.” –St. Francis Xavier
Our impact on others just where we are IS a big contribution to the world. The Benedictine principle of stability expresses the same idea—stay where you are, in your marriage or monastery, work through challenges, allow God to work within you and you will experience a transformation of your self to the image of Christ.
It is a paradox that our journey requires stability. But it is on this journey that we may find the light in the darkness, right where we are. So what is our work supposed to be right now? Deidra writes,
“The job God has given us isn’t about fixing anything. It’s about surrendering every part of me to all of him. Changing the world isn’t the same as fixing it….Changing the world is about each individual member of the body of Christ recognizing the sacredness of the role we play in the places we find ourselves every day…A life surrendered to the Spirit of God is a life lived with open hands, palms turned upward in letting go. We have to let go so we can live.”
Don’t worry about doing great things. Just do every little thing you can. You will make a world of difference right where you are. Just surrender.
p.s. This Nebraskan is delighted that Deidra eventually surrendered her initial opinion of Nebraska and now believes, “This is the Good Life.”
Enjoy reading Deidra’s book Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are ! If you have a story of how someone’s seemingly small words or actions toward you made an unforgettable, positive difference in your life, we would love to hear from you! Also check out Deidra’s blog Jumping Tandem!