When I was a kid, I remember there was a saying something like, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I think that was supposed to be a statement about not worrying too much, not getting overly hung up on details that, in the grand scheme of things, will make a difference.
I think not worrying too much is important (I’m a fan of “consider the Lillies of the field….”), but in light of this week’s scriptures, I do wonder: shouldn’t we be thinking about the small stuff? By that I don’t mean “worrying” in a way that brings about anxiety. But I do mean: the small stuff we do matters and here’s an opportunity to think about it more.
The main message of this week’s scriptures seem to me to be pretty squarely: power – that is, God’s power working in us – is not what we typically think it is. We see it in the Gospel: God works in the small things, the seeds, the yeast, the small stuff that we can’t always see working and growing. It’s there in the first reading, though in a slightly different key: God shows strength by being lenient – which will not look particularly like strength, and so will be hidden. And still in a different way in the epistle: God shows up especially when we are weak, when we seem to be nothing, when no one can visibly see that we are God’s – except that the Holy Spirit sees what is in our hearts.
In a way, that’s the whole of salvation history.
God takes the seeming non-entities, the nothings, and creates something amazing. God looks at all our actions, including all the hurtful things we do to each other, and nonetheless seeks mercy and leniency. God supports us through all, including and especially in our weakest and smallest moments.
But we, in our humanness, are so focused on what seems big and important, that we forget to look at what is small and insignificant. We forget to pay attention to the small stuff.
I have a couple of examples – one where I forgot to pay attention to the small stuff, and one where I think I might have made some headway toward paying attention to the small stuff. I hope both of these examples suggest why we might want to reflect on God’s power in the small things, the small actions, of our lives.
Example A: My middle kid went to a middle school dance a few weeks ago. It was one of those parenting moments when I thought, “Okay, the kids are taken care of and now I can do some reading…” But not 30 minutes passed when the doorbell rang and my child’s best friend’s mom is standing on the door step with my child. I focused on the literal big person there, the other mom, the one with authority, the person who could give The Account of what was happening. (There had been an altercation at the dance and everyone was sent home). I was seeking an explanation, some form of a true story. But the mom herself kept indicating my child, who had seemed “okay” (I thought) in the big picture. So when I looked more closely at the small signs – the tremors, the silence – I realized that she was the one needing my attention, my hugs, my focus. The mom was clearly like, what are you thinking? Pay attention to your kiddo. And she was right.
I think, for myself, anyway, it is very easy to focus on the big people in the room – whether they are the literal big adult people, or the people with the most power, money and so forth. It is much more difficult to see – not only the more hidden people – but the more hidden emotions and concerns and behind-the-scenes stuff. Yet so often that is where the response needs to be. Indeed, our Catholic tradition of the preferential option for the poor is a reminder of always holding before us the people, places, and situations where vulnerability hides what should not be kept hidden.
Example B: On the other hand, I’m thinking about a person in my life who has always had a difficult relationship with me (or maybe better put – I, with them?). I don’t even know how that started, since the relationship has seemed fraught ever since we met (as adults), for reasons I’ve never been able to figure out. I don’t know if there’s a story there – but there’s never been a way to ask, simply because of how the relationship has been.
So maybe because I felt like there was nothing to lose, I decided to reach out in small but direct ways. Direct hellos, direct, though short, questions, attending as much as possible to taking any small steps I could that might be in a more peaceful or loving direction even if the relationship didn’t seem to budge.
For all I know, the other person has been doing this as well – I don’t think this is a one-directional thing. But I can only speak here for myself and what I have aimed to do.
It has been a matter of years, and I’m not going to say there’s now a great relationship. But I can say that I can look back over time, and see some small changes in the way we respond to each other. A few years ago, I think the best we could mutually hope for was that we’d ignore each other; now, I think, we can say hello and expect a response.
It’s been small, it’s been difficult – but it’s been growth. And I think: God has been there all along even in this minuscule change.
That’s what I think about when I read this week’s scripture: I think it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the big stuff sometimes. That’s especially in our polarized world where racism and climate change and war are so very present.
That’s why noticing where the small stuff is, and the ways in which God is present there, is so important.