Small Things

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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.

 

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  • Avatar
    John T Wierick
    Reply

    Wonderful insight as always, Fred, especially regarding the boy with the loaves and fishes. It never occurred to me until now that he was likely unaware he was even participating in a miracle, but instead just reacting out of natural (or learned) open-handedness and open-heartedness. Great picture of what Kingdom living looks like and the impact it can have. Thanks for this.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      He didn’t even ask for a receipt for taxes.

  • Avatar
    Jeff Buford
    Reply

    Sometimes, it seems that the gifts that we remember the most can be the small ones that came unexpectedly across our path that allowed us to make an anonymous difference that we never anticipated.

  • Avatar
    Keith Sparzak
    Reply

    Fred,

    As always, a great perspective.

    Last Saturday, I came across a quote from Napolean Hill (a name you’re likely familiar with–if not, he was a huge self-help author who had his day in 1920s-1970s timeframe) that is similar to a couple you put in your blog above. He said, “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.”

    My wife and I are attempting to do this, especially during this crisis, through little but (hopefully) meaningful ways: donuts for first responders; shopping for the neighbors; donations of disinfecting wipes to first responders (yes, Suzie found some at Costco during the Seniors shopping hour this morning!); food pantry contributions at our church; etc.

    We have really enjoyed doing those “small things” in a great way, and some others have followed suit as we are sharing the joy we are experiencing while meeting the needs (or wants) of others in this strange season.

    Drops in an ocean of needs, but hey…

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Keith! I think there is great satisfaction in doing small things in a great way. “Lord, when did I ever…?”

  • Avatar
    Bill Cellar
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing this Kingdom perspective Fred- I do confess that I so struggle with thinking I have to do the Big things and wanting to be noticed and appreciated by others. Good reminder that Jesus looks at our heart and not the size of our gift or act. Jesus says I tell you the truth that the poor widow actually put in more than all the others (rich). His Kingdom is so different than ours! I find it fascinating in the gospel accounts that Jesus actually feeds more people with more leftovers with the five loaves than He does in the account with seven loaves. He often does more with less when we bring our little or even nothing and put it in His hands and He blesses it and He gives it. In fact He made the entire world out of nothing.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Bill. I agree that it is a struggle to desire recognition and while that is not the same as being thanked by a ministry it can also lead to needing to be noticed and rewarded. Your mention of the widow reminded me of this: https://thegathering.com/the-widows-great-treasure/

      Blessings,

  • Avatar
    Heidi Carls
    Reply

    Hi Fred. Thank you for this. I would like to ask permission to print this in the newsletter at the retirement village where I work. It seems especially relevant right now and I believe it would encourage both the staff and the residents. I am not sure if this is the place to ask. I am newly in the position of newsletter editor so this is the first time I have done something like this. Thank you for your help.

    Heidi Carls

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Yes, you have my permission and I hope it is useful, Heidi.

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