Small Things

For who has despised the day of small things?
For these seven rejoice to see
The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
They are the eyes of the Lord,
Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.” Zechariah 4:10 (NKJV)

The following was written by my daughter last week as she was nannying the little boy mentioned in this post. We all search for purpose in our lives. We want to know that the legacy we leave behind will have enduring value. It is sometimes easy to lose sight of that purpose in the midst of what we do. We get caught up in the repetition of mindless tasks. We forget that, if we are living to please the Lord, each day, each task can have eternal value. God takes even seemingly inconsequential events and builds them into the blocks of a sure foundation. We are reminded in Scripture to “never despise the day of small beginnings.”

More Than A Season

It is not our part here to take thought only for a season, or for a few lives of Men, or for a passing age of the world. We should seek a final end of this menace, even if we do not hope to make one.” Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Purpose. A common theme among those my age is that of purpose, and I confess I feel it too. I want my life to mean something, to change the world, to see grandiose results from everything I do. Teach a class? My students should become instant virtuosos. Babysit a child? He should go from learning his abcs to writing an essay by the time I leave. But it doesn’t work like that. The problem with looking for purpose, and assuming my life has none because I don’t see instant results, is that results aren’t instant. A lot could be said about our “instant” culture, but it’s already been said; here, it suffices that, while expecting some things to to be quick is fine, expecting others to be so is not. In fact, it is totally unrealistic.

Take an example from my own life. Right now I’m nannying a ten-month old boy, which has its challenges. It is easy to get caught up in the fact that I am spending seven hours a day with this little one, doing… what? Playing with blocks? Going outside? What’s the point? I feel like I should be leaping buildings with a single bound and rescuing orphans on five continents simultaneously. It sounds ridiculous, but it should also sound familiar, especially to other young people. Stories abound of young adults doing marvelous things in countries around the world, and I sometimes feel very much like a lesser person because I am not, it seems, doing “marvelous things.”

But what counts as a marvelous thing? What counts as having purpose to my life? The obvious answer of “serving the Lord” comes to mind, which is true, but I mean practically. Does something not have purpose because I do not see the results right away, if ever? By no means! Colin Harbinson, who used to be Dean of the Arts at the university I currently work at, said that the Lord spoke to him once and told him that he would never see the fulfillment of his dream. Dr. Harbinson has worked for probably thirty or forty years to repair the breach between Christians and the arts. So does the fact that he will never see the true fulfillment of his dream mean that his results are worthless? Does the fact that I will almost certainly not know the little boy I now nanny when he is an adult mean that what I do is pointless? No.

Understanding the true concept of purpose takes a willingness to step back, humble oneself, and look at the big picture. Dr. Harbinson is not singlehandedly changing the face of Christian art, but he is a part of that. His work in establishing the arts’ departments at my university means that I and hundreds of others have graduated from university with the beginnings of an understanding of the complexities of the intersection of worldview and art and the means to do something with our knowledge; and this university is only one part of his ministry. I am not singlehandedly changing this little boy’s life, but I am one person to help surround him with caring people who will intertwine love and discipline so that he will grow up mature.

Purpose is long-term. Results are rarely instant. Rather, let us look at our day-to-day activities like building a wall—one brick (or block, if you’re a ten-month old) at a time. Eventually there will be a wall, even if right now there is only a brick. The lack of a current wall does not negate the responsibility to build each brick to the best of one’s ability, because only with individual, well-made bricks will the wall stand.

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