2017 has barely begun, and already I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. With everything.
Of course, with the state of the world – from the refugee crisis to the wars being waged across the globe, to the random bombings that seem to take place on a daily basis.
And then there’s the state of our country. Where black parents have to teach their children, not just how to look both ways before they cross the street, but how to deal with the police so they don’t get killed. Where women and LGBTQ folks are still being abused and demeaned on a regular basis. Where we are soon to be living in a country in which our President seems much more interested in tweeting than in liberty and justice for all.
And then, of course, there’s the state of our personal lives. Practically everyone I know is going through…something. Transitions. Illness. Loss. Relationship struggles. Financial struggles. Identity issues. Depression. Anxiety.
And it’s cold. Here in Chicago where I live, the temperature has been like 7 degrees for days…way too many days. I know perhaps to some people that may seem like not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But it is if you live on the street or don’t have enough heat in your house, or perhaps just find that freezing your ass off puts you in a very bad mood.
And I keep asking myself, what can I do? What can I do about all of it? What can I do in times like these?
I walk around feeling like I can’t do enough. Or like nothing I can do will be enough to make a difference.
Mostly I feel like I want to fix it all, but I can’t fix any of it.
Like it would take a miracle to fix any of it.
A couple days ago, though, I started thinking again about that Raymond Carver short story, “A Small, Good Thing.” In it, a couple faces a horrible tragedy. They are heartbroken, devastated. But something happens, at the end of the story, a simple thing…some food is shared, a kind of communion happens. And it’s not everything, but it is holy and healing. As one of the characters says, “You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this.”
And it made me think, what if, when I’m being smashed by the huge waves of all that’s wrong and horrible and broken all around me, and feeling powerless and overwhelmed by it all (which pretty much happens every time I open up Facebook or watch the news or, basically, get out of bed in the morning)…what if I just tried to do a small, good thing?
What if I just committed to doing one small, good thing every day?
One thing every day that could make the world better in some small way.
One thing every day that puts flesh and bones on Jesus’ call to love my neighbor as myself (which not only leads me to one small, good neighbor-loving thing, but also to one small, good self-loving thing).
That would be something, right?
But, yeah…maybe not.
Because quite honestly, I’ve already been doing small, good things. Pretty much every day I sign petitions, give money, share information. I write songs and blog posts. I read and learn and try to stay informed. I take part in protest marches.
And the truth is, even though I do all these things, I don’t often see how any of these small things add up to much. Could possibly be enough.
Then the other night, while FaceTiming with my 23-year-old daughter, Zoe, she began telling me about the “bullet journal” she’s started keeping, which is evidently a thing these days…a daily planner meets journal meets personal work of art.
What caught my eye, as Zoe leafed through hers, was a page she had created to capture her gratitude. On the left was a bright yellow sun and coming out of it, 30 lines, looking like the rays of the sun, and on each line, Zoe was writing one thing she was grateful for that day.
And it got me.
I imagined Zoe looking back at her month and seeing that picture of her gratitudes, one from each day, filling the page, and I could see how it might seem like something, how it might fill her with hope, and maybe even more gratitude.
And it made me wonder if maybe that’s the miracle I’ve been looking for. That, yes, the things we do on a daily basis do add up, transform from individual acts into something stronger and more powerful and grace-filled and world-changing than we could possibly imagine.
The individual small, good things… they are like those ridiculous scraps of straw and grass and other debris birds use to build nests from. They shouldn’t amount to anything, but they do, they hold together, they become a home.
But the miracle is being able to actually see that. Trust that.
And maybe being able to see that is a matter of opening our eyes and getting the whole picture.
So that’s what I’m going to be doing, going into this new year. What I’m going to try to do anyway.
Keep doing a small good thing or two or maybe even three, every day. I’m going to do them, keeping Mother Theresa’s words in mind, that not all of us can do great things, but “we can do small things with great love.”
I’m also going to write them down each day, keep track of them, so I can visualize them, see the whole array, all the single, flimsy strands together. And I’m going to pray for the faith to believe each of these small, good things are not only healing and holy in themselves, but that in God’s economy, miracle of all miracles, they do add up to enough.
And by the grace of God, maybe, even more than enough.