We’ve all heard – and maybe even expressed – the sentiment that it’s the small things that count. Sure, a romantic trip to Rome for an anniversary with surprise clues the weeks leading up to it really makes a woman feel loved (one of my friends actually did this for his wife in the recent past). But it’s the “just because” small things, the roses by the stairs, if you will, that can be more effective at getting the message deep down that you love and care for someone. So it makes sense that “start small” is perhaps the most common advice given to anyone who faces anything big. If small things can sometimes matter more than big things precisely because they’re small, then “starting small” might be more effective at accomplishing big things than starting big.
Even though it’s a cliche, I like this idea of starting small but it’s not because it encourages me. Actually, I’m rather frustrated when someone advises me to start small – we’ve got huge and looming problems! We don’t have time to start small! No, I like this starting small because, in reality, we can’t do anything else. Each of us is a tiny creature in this huge world, right? Whatever big things any one of us may have done either took luck or years or likely some combination of both to do. It may be true that one person can change the world, but that’s also because it’s a small world. In other words, it’s always that one person may be known for what was really a group effort in the large-scale changes that make history and sometimes, you don’t even know if you’re in that group. We never know when we might be participating in the next big breakthrough simply by offering ourselves and our gifts, however meager, to our small pockets of this world.
We all know the saying, “it’s easier to turn a moving car than a parked one,” but what we often forget is that cars need gas to keep rolling; they require regular maintenance and they sometimes stall or break down. Continuing to move forward, continuing to turn your car is not the small thing; oil changes and keeping your tank full are. We have to start small because we are small. And actually, it is because we are small that our small efforts are not. Let me explain.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” (Luke 16:10). It is not that small efforts are identical to big efforts; it is that small things are a mirror for big things. When you start small, you are showing up for a litmus test in life. Sure, it’s about patience and letting God do the big things God longs to do through your small things, but it’s also about integrity. Do small things matter just as much to you as big things? Do you see helping an elderly person across the street as just as important as helping to provide clean water to thousands in an African village?
One of my friends sent me a video recently about PTSD and Myers Briggs’ personality types. At the end of this video (around the 20:00 mark), the speaker posits that, with certain Myers Briggs types, their response to trauma may eventually produce great things. He gives the example of Beethoven – perhaps Beethoven’s particular personality type responded to trauma in such a way as to eventually produce his symphonies, which most of us know and listen to today. But are these great symphonies worth the cost it was to Beethoven, who undoubtedly suffered for much of his life? Is the “big” thing of a symphony worth what some might think is the “small” thing of “just one” person? We start small not only because we have to start small, but also because in doing so, we affirm the equality of all of God’s creation, large and tiny, resist the ranking system of the world that would have us discard “just one” person for their lack of productivity or even in favor of immense productivity and affirm that small things are indeed big things in the economy of God’s kingdom.