Small Things {Book Club}

We are excited that Connection Group Registration Opens tomorrow at 6 p.m. EST. You can see groups, facilitators, and times here.

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A cloudy-ish day, yesterday found me out in my front yard, reclaiming my flower beds from the encroaching weeds. I began this work in May and knew it would take me all summer to finish. I’m nearly done with the largest bed, but I have two more, which together are about the size of the one I’m not quite finished with yet. Clearly, I will not be done by the end of summer. But I’m halfway through, and looking at the cleared ground covered with mulch and the blueberry bushes that were choked with wild sweet peas just two months ago and are now budding with berries—this brings me great joy. It gives flesh to my vision of what my yard will look like when I’m through: beautiful and fruitful. It won’t be a yard any longer but a garden.

I have a long way to go, as I’m only managing to clear a dozen or so square feet each week, but slowly and steadily the weeds are falling before my spade. After working several hours yesterday painstakingly digging up grass and dandelions, blackberries and holly, I had managed to clear a patch about two feet by seven feet. I had a few more square feet I wanted to finish before calling it a day.

And then one of my twins came out into the yard, crying. It was the second time in a half hour that he’d done so. He and his brother had been working in the garage, building a catapult, when part of it flew off and smashed his hand. His index finger and thumb had small cuts on them, but mostly he was scared and angry. This is my child who makes mountains out of molehills and cries at the drop of a hat. It is easy, and tempting, for me to brush off his multiple-times-a-day tears, especially when I’m nearing the end of a task and just want to get it done.

But I had been listening to a couple of podcasts while clearing the weeds out of my yard: Dallas Willard on faith and Os Guiness on calling and courage. I was also mulling over this essay you’re reading, an essay about faith and calling in the midst of Ordinary Time. So when my son came to me in tears, I sat him on my lap and held him. I listened to his story of What Happened. I kissed the cuts on his fingers, and I silently prayed over him as he sat in my arms. When I thought he was ready, I asked him if he wanted to help me. He did, and we finished weeding those last few feet of ground in double time. Right as we finished, the neighbor boy called over the fence, and my son ran happily off to play.

***

We are smack dab in the middle of Ordinary Time, the longest season of the church year, comprising fully half the year. (In some traditions, it’s well over half.) It is easy, and tempting, to think that Ordinary Time is just all the weeks that aren’t in other seasons and so dismiss them as being less important, or even unimportant. But Ordinary Time is not just a hodgepodge of days that don’t fit anywhere else. It is a season, the season of the church year that celebrates the ordinary days of our lives. Ordinary Time reminds us that every day is sacred to the One who made it.

The work we do on a daily basis, those recurring tasks that must always be done again and again, day after day—dishes, email, bathing, changing diapers, paying bills, buying (or growing) and making food—these are the tasks that most easily wear us down, and these are the very tasks that Ordinary Time reminds us are sacred, rife with possibilities for growth in grace and faith when we do them “as to the Lord.”

It takes a lot of faith to believe that my vision of a beautiful garden, which will not be realized for many years, matters. It’s just a garden—trees and flowers. It’s not like I’m growing food to feed hungry people, or preaching the gospel, or any number of a million things that would ostensibly be more useful.

And even if I can hold fast to that vision of beauty to delight the weary souls of my neighbors, of my growing children, of every guest who graces my doorstep—even if I manage that, it takes a lot of faith simply to eradicate the weeds, to keep going back over the same ground to pull up new ones as they put forth their greedy leaves, to believe that this work I’m doing oh-so-slowly will one day, with a lot more work, metamorphose into a garden.

It takes faith to believe that the manifold interruptions of my life—like my son coming to me crying several times over the course of a morning—aren’t actually interruptions but opportunities to grow in grace and faith. If I set aside my weeding now, will I ever finish it? If I take the time to comfort him and hold him, will I get to do what I have my heart set on?

This is a small example of an interruption, but we all know there are others. I am a writer, but I do very little writing in this season of my life. I have essays and novels and stories and books rolling around in my head, clamoring to be put onto paper and sent into the world. But there are meals to make for my growing family, dishes to be cleaned, endless piles of clothes and towels and sheets to be washed and folded and put away. Over and over and over again. Not to mention those weeds in the garden that will keep growing back without constant vigilance. Will I ever get to write those words I believe God has put on my heart?

If God has truly put them on my heart, then yes, I will. It takes faith to believe this, to do the work of this ordinary day, work that is mostly not writing, and trust that God is in the interruptions, that all these seeming distractions are actually my real work.

It takes faith to believe that the small, nearly invisible tasks that I do over and over again matter in any significant way. It takes faith to believe that even though I’m not doing anything great for God, God is doing something great in me through these very ordinary tasks that take up so much of my very ordinary days.

American culture tells me ad nauseam that the only work that matters is work that is seen and recognized, that goes viral on social media, that gets spotlighted on a news segment. Sadly, the American church has bought into this lie and thoughtlessly propagates it—with the best of intentions in most cases (“Let’s do great things for God!”), but it’s still a lie. Years ago, when I was a young teenager, I had the privilege of speaking with Mother Teresa, who told me, among other things, that we can do no great things for God. We can only do small things with great love. Love for God, and love for our neighbors, whether they be members of our own families or strangers in a strange land.

The work that matters is not great work as we usually understand that, but work that is done with great love, as to the Lord, “by His strength and for His glory,” as my friend Kris Camealy always says.

It takes faith to believe that. It takes even more faith to live it. Ordinary Time is the season that strengthens our faith that small things done with great love matter more than all the Big Things That Get Attention. It is the season that sacralizes our work, however mundane, menial, obscure, difficult, or thankless. It the season that gives us the most opportunities to grow in grace and faith, as we receive the work before us as God’s work and so do it with Him and for Him and through Him and in Him. By His strength and for His glory.

This week’s theme is Connecting. What relationship do you see between “Connecting” and Ordinary Time?

P.S. Next week we will start The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life by Barnabas Piper. I chose this for September, because every now and then, it is a good spiritual practice to cultivate curiosity. Our fall book will be Facing Danger: A Guide Through Risk by Dr Anna E Hampton. From Amazon: “After living for almost a decade in the high-risk and dangerous environment of Afghanistan, Facing Danger works through how Anna attempted to raise her children without emotional and long-term trauma while simultaneously living out her calling to partner in a divine endeavor in a hostile culture. This is the real world where a biblical understanding of risk must work.”

2 Comments

    1. K. C. Ireton September 6, 2017

      Dear Danielle, I’m so glad! May you be blessed with a felt sense of God’s presence right where you are.

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