In 1970, the author Wendell Berry wrote an essay called “Think Little.”
Addressing the green movement, Berry argues that we tend to focus too much on making plans and making laws. “For most of the history of this country our motto, implied or spoken, has been Think Big,” Berry writes. But there’s a better way, and it begins on a much smaller scale.
But the citizen who is willing to Think Little, and, accepting the discipline of that, to go ahead on his own, is already solving the problem. A man who is trying to live as a neighbor to his neighbors will have a lively and practical understanding of the work of peace and brotherhood, and let there be no mistake about it – he is doing that work. A couple who make a good marriage, and raise healthy, morally competent children, are serving the world’s future more directly and surely than any political leader, though they never utter a public word. A good farmer who is dealing with the problem of soil erosion on an acre of ground has a sounder grasp of that problem and cares more about it and is probably doing more to solve it than any bureaucrat who is talking about it in general. A man who is willing to undertake the discipline and the difficulty of mending his own ways is worth more to the conservation movement than a hundred who are insisting merely that the government and the industries mend their ways.
Those who occupy powerful positions play a big role in the world. But Berry argues that we tend to underestimate the role that the rest of us play. The action doesn’t only take place in places like Washington, D.C. or New York City. The real action takes place on farms, households, towns, and churches.
So often, we’re focused on the big. I’m grateful for those who are faithful in big things. I just think it’s time we stopped overlooking what God does through the rest of us who aren’t powerful, connected, and leveraged. It’s time to move from focusing on what’s big and powerful to seeing what God can do through the ordinary, even when it doesn’t look like much.
Take Care of Little Things
Jesus told stories about people doing ordinary things. In one story, Jesus spoke of a household manager’s savvy use of money. Jesus concluded with words that underline the importance of how we handle our money, a very ordinary part of our daily lives: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” (Luke 16:10). According to Jesus, how we manage our money — an ordinary thing — is tied to our spirituality. Faithfulness and wisdom in everyday stuff matters.
Later, Jesus tells a story of three servants who were entrusted with different amounts of money to invest on behalf of their master. One servant is given less money than the others, but he invests it wisely. We’re tempted to think that how he managed his investment wouldn’t matter as much because he was given less to invest. When his master returns, he praises the servant with the least money in a way that he doesn’t praise the others: “Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.” (Luke 19:17)
“Some men think that religion lies only in great things,” said Charles Spurgeon. “It does not, for it lies also in little things. Take any one day of our lives; we eat, drink, rise in the morning, go to bed at night, there is nothing very particular about the day. Our life is made up of little things; and if we are not careful of little things, we shall not be careful of great ones. If we do not mind the little things, the great ones must go wrong.”
I’m tempted to think of doing big things for God. It’s not hard for me to develop grandiose ideas of what I want to do with my life. Part of this is healthy. God put us on earth as his image-bearers. He created us to represent him on this earth and carry out his work.
The problem isn’t our desire to do something great with our lives. The problem is with our definition of greatness. God put is in a particular place at a particular time. We can’t be everywhere at all times; we can only be here at this moment. God’s given us, in the words of William Faulkner, our own “little postage stamp of native soil.” Cultivating that space in our time has more power than we realize. It’s what God put us here to do.
The world’s impressed with the big, the fast, and the popular. God seems to work with the small, the slow, and the hidden. Small, hidden faithfulness matters more than we could know.
In our pursuit of big things, never forget the power of thinking little.