Our life together is not about bigger and more, it is about smaller and less. That’s not a message that will get much traction in current culture. It is not a sentiment that has often been celebrated or sought. Nonetheless, it is the gospel of our Lord. Jesus says: Come, follow, be less than others, seek to be last. Pour yourself out. Look to the interest of others. Go out into God’s great big world and get small. Mustard seed small. Leaven small. Sheep small. Kneeling small. Just-a-lamplight-in-the-face-of-a-dark-world small. Vulnerable-children small. Not-my-will-but-God’s-be-done small.
Jesus welcomes little children and accepts the boy’s gift of simple barley bread and little fish. He chooses to go to the home of Zacchaeus, small in stature and even lower in reputation. Jesus attracts crowds, but he does not seek them out. Often, he attempts to leave their clamoring attention, retreating instead to the company of his Father or his closest friends. Perhaps his preference for small and less should be instructive. I have noticed that it is in small spaces, when my world has been reduced, usually not of my own will or desire, that I see so much more clearly the bigger picture.
It has been beside hospital beds and gravesides, around cluttered family tables and in tiny nursing home rooms that so much of what I thought critically important evaporated, revealing profound, stark meaning that I too often missed in my busyness and distraction. It has been seasons when illness or injury robbed my heretofore imagined independence or grief paralyzed my prideful competence — in other words, when I have been made small, I came to see the bigger picture.
Those small times showed me the complex, glorious mosaic of community that upholds me. My seasons of reduced autonomy revealed the diverse, relentless beauty of creation that sings of a future hope, larger and more durable than any immediate events. When circumstances prevented me from doing as I may have wanted, I learned of the deep, embodied joy of simple pleasures that I’d previously taken for granted.
As of late, our world has grown smaller. Calendars once packed now look strangely blank. The regular rhythms of life have changed. We do not have control over our own plans and there is no clear end to this new abnormal time. The pain and suffering of this season is ever present and new every morning, and yet this unwanted and unwelcomed smallness, this undeniable reduction of our independence and autonomy, has unmasked a bigger picture to reveal what truly matters.
We can no longer deny that relationships matter. Taking care of each other really matters. Ensuring that everyone has food, shelter and healthcare really matters. Mending the safety nets too long ignored and left in tatters really matters. Tending to those who’ve known for a very long time what it is to be isolated and alone really matters. Noticing beauty and practicing courageous kindness really matters. Giving thanks for the gift of each new day really matters. Radical compassion really matters. Confessing our failings and saying we’re sorry and extending forgiveness really matters. Hugs really matter. Singing side by side really matters. Laughing together really matters. Leaving nothing left unsaid really matters. Welcoming the stranger really matters. Seeing the value and worth and dignity of every person, every creature really matters.
The small spaces, the forced reductions in my own grand and self-centered plans, reveals unmistakably that I need others. I rely on migrant workers harvesting crops and on grocery store clerks making minimum wage. My life depends on healthcare workers putting their lives on the line. I cannot survive without friends praying for me or elected officials seeking the public, common good. This forced smallness reveals the big picture of what truly matters. Small spaces like the upper room, when Jesus is with those closest to him with simple things like bread and water and last, raw words, reveal what really matters to God: Love one another, because you need each other.
I don’t want to lose sight of God’s big picture when this mandated smallness ends.
Grace and peace,