I want to offer you a few observations, friends, after three days of working to stay tuned to the small things.
When I say "small things" I really mean the stuff life is made of when we take away the consumerism and the social media (which is how you probably found this post, right?). When we take away the "platforms" we find ourselves face to face with people instead of pictures of people. Our ears might be greeted with silence (it's a blessed silence). We might be uncomfortable.
Something happened to me to prompt all of this.
I was hired by some friends to lead music at a two day women's conference. It was based on the beautiful work of an organization called IF:Gathering. Check out their website HERE. IF is a neat organization. They have a clear message. They like to say that we should all be engaged in "the work of doing small things well." They get down to the nitty gritty, unglamorous truth about discipleship and our work as followers of Christ and even as women.
I was ready for leading a bunch of women in worship - it's something I enjoy doing! I was ready to encourage them to be loud and purposeful in their singing. I was ready to share a carefully selected corner of my testimony with them. I was ready to be a member of a small table group and was ready to listen to others talk about their lives.
When we settled into that first session and were greeted with our first speaker's message about simplifying our work and doing it well I wanted to crawl under my table and disappear. I was so uncomfortable. How naked we are, friends, when we strip away all of this glitter we've used to promote ourselves. To be bigger than we truly are.
We are tiny. And our work is tiny.
Tiny and insignificant aren't synonymous here. We're afraid that they will be and so we have to puff ourselves up and make ourselves "official." We feel like we need organizations and labels to make us big enough. I know this all too well and too personally, friends. For several years I struggled in my writing because I was convinced that with this good musical gift, God must also give me a "position." I waited for one. I prayed for one. I spent several years worrying and turned away from God because I didn't feel like I really had the sort of position God should have given me. So rebellious. How foolish. As I look back now I shake my head because God had been with me in my circumstances the whole time. When I finally was offered the "position" I'd so wanted I was able to see how ill fitting it was for the work God had set before me - a very different sort of work, indeed. Divergent, even. I never would have satisfied the position I'd desired and it never would have satisfied me.
But platforms fascinate us and entice us, don't they? And we long for them most when we strike out on our own, away from the small work of relationship and discipleship.
Over the weekend as I listened to other women and shared some of my story (more of it than I was really comfortable sharing), I began to feel a tension someplace in my mind release its hold. It was that "LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME" feeling we all have and are afraid to talk about.
We know from scripture and experience that when we cast out a negative thought or habit, we need to replace it with something good.
I replaced that ugly tension with a new hope . . . a hope of seeing other people in my life and of being seen by other people in my life by way of God's own grace. Not by way of accomplishment or talent. Not by way of station. Just . . . through the lens of God's grace. By way of sharing the mundane, holy moments that make up our true lives.
It's going to take a while for this practice to settle into a comfortable rhythm. I'm going to spend a long time stumbling over myself. I know for sure I will. But I've started small. And I'm giving myself some grace - you should, too!
Here are some changes I've noticed for the last few days:
1) I started really praying with my son. He's a little tiny kid and we had a simple prayer we were saying at night. I started praying with him on our way in to the school building. And I went ahead and explained to him that God lives in his heart . . . and now, with this tiny little boy voice, he can say, "God is in my heart." It's the beginning of something that will be critical to his well being later on in life. And I'm the mama. Nobody will see the hundreds of thousands of little prayers we'll say . . . no one but God. And it will still be huge for my boy in the long run.
2) I picked a few friends/family members to focus on - to see about their actual well being and to encourage. It immediately changed how I was looking at other people. For the past two days I've spotted more needs around me in my daily life than I've been aware of for months. They're small needs. But I've been capable of responding because I've seen them. (God can heal our eyes, friends - it's in the Good Book).
3) Without the pressure of some "greater goal" in the form of an ideal organization or platform for myself, I've been receiving tiny opportunities that are totally satisfying. And because I believe in Prevenient Grace (look that one up, it's pretty) I can see that God was already working on that part of the garden of my heart. A few weeks ago I turned down some opportunities I'd selfishly desired . . . and they made way for things I'd hoped for but hadn't dared to imagine - and these things have such clear purpose and such beautiful meaning for others and for the work of God . . . I'm less than nothing in the context of these opportunities . . . and yet they are so beautiful!
4) Can I do a p.s. for #3? Just today somebody asked me if I played piano in church. I said, "I used to! But right now I don't. In fact, I go to church someplace where they really don't need me to do anything at all except maybe bring snacks for the congregation or sweep the floor from time to time!" It felt so good to say that. I go into that church and I rest there. I meet God there. I look other weary pilgrims in the eye as we light candles and take communion. And then I go out into the world - the whole big Church that is God's created universe. And God shows me where the work is. What a good gift. I'd been unable to see it quite so clearly. This conference helped me out with my perspective.
5) I remembered my teachers all of a sudden. And I've been thinking about them nonstop ever since Saturday's last moment of prayer. There were women in my church who took me into their circle as a friend when I was just about 15. Women who gave a lonely kid a place to be. And they taught me about love and compassion and laughter. They prayed for me and encouraged me. They told me to believe that God would never stop speaking into the life He'd given me. And they were right! Having been reminded of their gift to me, I've been thinking about who I can do that for. Who can I do that for? Some of my family. A few of my friends. Some younger people - some girls beginning to write songs who are scared and lonely and afraid they won't measure up. Some music ministers feeling the tug of war going on between the lure of the spotlight and the love of an all powerful and totally humble God.
Let me leave you with a song I wrote back in 2011. You'll maybe recognize some of the words because they're from a famous hymn tune. It starts with a confession of rebelliousness . . . "Well I work hard, and for Your sake . . ."
Friends, God can heal our hearts and minds of anything worth healing. God can heal our pride. God can heal our way of seeing other people. Stop thrashing around. Stop looking for something bigger and better. Look at the people in your life and love them well. "Do the small work well."