Listen to “Small Things” by Fred Smith
After years of pursuing high impact philanthropy and broad systemic change this is a time for many to resist being swept away by the enormity of the effects of the pandemic or discouraged by the relatively little we can do while confined to our homes and essential activities. While some, like Bill and Melinda Gates, have taken a global perspective, others have focused on the impact this will have on our national economy and the work of local philanthropy and non-profits. Some of the more optimistic see a sharp rebound back to normal while many are looking at a recovery that includes a serious recession and a five year timeline. Sociologists and those who study our religious practices have predicted a number of scenarios for how the lapse in weekly congregating will have permanent effects on our habits of worship. We’ve been confronted daily with both the fragility and strengths of our healthcare system and how prepared or unprepared we have been for the pandemic. Financial advisors have worked diligently to be positive but have now begun to deliver the news to their retired or close to retirement clients that their assets have taken a once-in-a-lifetime hit and the future they had planned for and expected may not be reality. In other words, we are inundated by what this will mean and the historic impact it will have on the way we live going forward. And, yes, in the bleak daily news there has been more than enough finger pointing, blaming, shaming, and looking for villains and bad guys. “Why me and why now?”
The Great Challenge
Years ago I stopped trying to see the big picture or have a significant impact when I realized there are far too many unpredictable elements that are at play in any time of turbulent change. While I recognize the interest in and ability of some to wait and identify the place where their giving can have the most strategic effect and make the most difference, I have gradually accepted for my life the wisdom of Francois Fenelon who wrote:
“Great acts of virtue are rare because they are seldom called for. When the occasion for you to do something great comes, it has its own rewards; the excitement, the respect gained from others, and the pride that will accompany your ability to do such “great” things. To do small things that are right continually, without being noticed, is much more important. Faithfulness in the little things better proves your true love for God.”
My great challenge is to embrace the calling to do small invisible things without always asking about the long term impact or being distracted by grasping the big picture. While I know there are many different examples for giving in Scripture, I have come to especially love that of the boy with the loaves and fish. He had no comprehension of the size of the problem facing the disciples or their bewilderment. He had no master plan for food distribution or expertise in poverty alleviation. But he was not overwhelmed or anxious like the disciples. All he possessed was the rare ability to give what little he did have and not be embarrassed or apologetic by the smallness of it. He never expected to feed the 5,000. He did not envision being part of a miracle or remembered as a model for great faith. We never hear about him again. He disappears back into the crowd.
A Drop in the Ocean
Today, there are good people with grand plans for systemic change and using the power of philanthropy to prop up individual organizations and whole sectors. However, there are also those who, like the boy with the loaves and fish, are simply offering what little they have to be used without the promise of fame or publicity. They are not concerned with leverage or fixing the system. They are doing small things but with great love.
Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” In the coming weeks many people will be receiving government checks for up to $1,000. Statistics say that the majority will save it, a few will spend it and almost none will give it. What if, instead, those of us who receive the bonus and are financially able would cash it into ten $100 bills or twenty $50 bills and make non-deductible gifts to people we come across who are likely to be most immediately affected by the sudden and drastic downturn? I know. It’s a drop in the ocean of need but so was the boy’s lunch.
Art by John Reilly
You can purchase my book “Where The Light Divides” here.