The Crucial Nature of Little Things


I’m always ready to do big things. After Ann Voskamp’s blog a few months ago, I wrote in this space about wanting to move to Iraq to help the refugees. I still have people asking me about that.

“Aren’t you moving to Iraq or something?” they ask.

“No, not yet,” I say.

It’s much easier for me to commit to doing big, radical things than it is to commit to the simple, daily things. I’m not sure what that says about me or my personality.

But as I get older, I’m learning important lessons about waiting. I care less about “impact and more about the crucial nature of little things. Maybe I’m not on this earth to write for millions of people. Maybe I’m here to make an important difference in the lives of a few.

I’m slowly, slowly becoming okay with this notion of a beautiful, hidden life.

* * * * *

A few weeks ago I read an article in the local paper about a few Syrian refugee families being relocated here, to the city of Lancaster where I live. This idea of being a refugee struck me more clearly than ever when I imaged people from halfway around the world trying to acclimate to life in Lancaster County. Seriously. My wife had trouble feeling like this place is home, and she’s from Ohio.

Maybe I would have read that article and went on with my day, but I made the crucial mistake of reading the comments under the article. Within moments I was ashamed of my fellow Lancastrians.

“Send them back,” one person wrote. “They’re probably with ISIS.”

“You know how those Muslims are,” someone else wrote. “They’ll take jobs but they won’t contribute to the community.”

It was embarrassing, this lack of regard for other humans beings who just want a safe place to live, a safe place for their kids to go to school, a safe place to work and eat and make new friends. But instead of just being embarrassed, I thought, you know what? I’m going to help welcome them. That racist, insular voice can’t be the only voice they hear when they arrive in Lancaster, our city.

So I contacted a few local organizations who are helping with their relocation. One of them sort of brushed me off, and that’s okay. When you offer to help, you can’t be offended when people say no. That’s something I’ve learned. But another organization wrote me back. We exchanged emails. I offered to write about the refugee families. I thought that maybe, just maybe, if my neighbors read about what these refugees have gone through, their hopes and dreams, their history, their stories, then maybe we would welcome them.

Next week I’m meeting with one of these organization, and I hope to share some of these refugee stories right here on my blog. That’s my dream anyway.

It’s not a big thing, you know? I don’t have a million dollars to donate. I don’t have a huge platform. I’m not writing a book about it. I don’t even know if anything will come of it, or if I’ll get to meet the families, or if they’ll want to share their stories.

But I think this is the crucial nature of little things. No one else was going to do this thing, this simple thing, not until I stepped forward. And who knows what might come of it?

The whole point of this post isn’t about me stepping up and doing something – it’s about you. What little things are you not doing because they seem too, well…too little? We all have to start somewhere. You know that sense that you should call that certain person or volunteer at that non-profit or take the lead on that project or mail that thank you note? You’re getting that sense for a reason. Follow through. Take that first, little step.

Do you believe in the power of our beautiful, hidden lives?

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11 Replies to “The Crucial Nature of Little Things”

  1. Oh. I have a particular refugee friend that you should meet. Wow, he told me a bit of his story and I was floored; it involved a journey from his native Somalia through half a dozen countries, days on the road without food or water. He’s a beautiful Muslim man and is all alone. I was struck by his profound gratitude to be here, to be safe, and also his palpable suffering being apart from his family.

  2. There’s something for me in the connection between big and little, those disparate things. I have a feeling they’re not as far apart as we think, that the little is big. Isn’t this what Jesus teaches about? It requires such a fundamental thought shift.

    1. I sat in on our youth group’s meeting last Sunday or a few Sundays ago and they were reading passages about the Kingdom and it is so paradoxical, so nonsensical. I think you’re right, that this big is small small is big is one of those conundrums.

  3. “Maybe I’m here to make an important difference in the lives of a few. I’m slowly, slowly becoming okay with this notion of a beautiful, hidden life.”

    Check and check. You’ve already made a difference in one life. It’s easy to forget what’s happening in another part of the world (or worse, as you point out, to hate the oppressed). I never would have thought I’d think about Syrian refugees today, but now I have. More importantly, I want to do something.

    But how? (I actually did check my local newspaper to see if something similar is happening, but alas no refugees are being sheltered in my home town).

    That’s an important question–how can I help? Too often it becomes an excuse, I think. We hide behind the belief that we can’t do anything about a problem across the globe. But I’m sure we *can* do something. What that is, I’m not sure.


    (By the way, I’d be happy to post what you write on my blog to increase exposure).

  4. Shawn, your story is inspiring and much needed for most of us. It’s so easy and seems so natural to just sit back and not do anything such as what you’ve done. Thanks!

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