Small Things With Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor
by Margot Starbuck
InterVarsity Press. 240 pages
reviewed by SARAH SCHERSCHLIGT
American Christians’ daily lives are full of important activities: demanding jobs, preparing well-balanced meals for kids, juggling care appointments for aging parents and yes, being involved in church. In the busyness of life, we have a niggling sense that faithful discipleship is outside our reach. We admire people like Mother Teresa, but we assume she’s in a different category. Drop my nets and follow you? Get real — I have laundry to do. As Margot Starbuck demonstrates in “Small Things With Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor,” the responsibilities of our lives are the call of discipleship.
The ordinary tasks of life become the ground of a relationship with God and neighbor. At its heart, this book is about Christian vocation. Stressed-out, stretched-to-the max Christians need not do more, but to pay more attention to how they are doing it.
Doing laundry? Take a moment to thank God for the kids at play who make those little socks dirty and compel yourself to pray for children who don’t have socks.
Importantly, Starbuck doesn’t bless the choices and priorities that have led us to be so stressed. Through examples of real discipleship, however, she shows it is possible to make the changes — subtle and not so subtle — necessary to be a disciple where you are.
Her book is divided into short chapters that address different demographics. It’s like a choose-your-own adventure book: if you are married, middle aged and caring for aging parents, you can choose to read just the chapters that describe you. If you are a young, unmarried student, you can read about the particularities of your calling. One critique is that Starbuck assumes her readers are primarily middle-to-upper-class, educated, mainstream American Christians: the world she presumably comes from. It’s possible that a congregation of low-income people who haven’t had the chance to go to college will find wisdom in this book, but it doesn’t seem written for them.
That being said, this organizational style makes the book remarkably approachable and reveals just how much Starbuck understands her readers: people who don’t have time to read a 300-page book of theory. A benefit of this style is that if you do read the whole book, you get a fuller vision of what Christians in other demographics may be facing. It engenders empathy across generations and situations.
Starbuck has the rare gift of inspiring change without guilt. Where there is judgment, she implicates herself and paints judgment alongside understanding. One of the best sections is ”Family Values,” wherein she outlines 10 “pretty good excuses” for idolizing family. She does this with such humor and mercy that a reader feels known, convicted, forgiven and inspired in short order.
As a pastor at a thriving suburban church full of well-meaning, generous, busy, faithful Christians, this book excites me. Complete with a study guide, it fills the gap of a realistic “How” that is often lacking in volumes about discipleship. “Small Things With Great Love” will equip and inspire all who read it with the grace and knowledge that they can follow Jesus for real.
SARAH SCHERSCHLIGT is associate pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Darnestown, Md.