A few years ago, I was a journalist covering a conference in Houston, when I met a childhood friend for a hotel breakfast before the work day began. We hadn’t seen each other in years but picked up conversation like two teenagers sitting cross-legged on shag carpet and flipping through Teen magazine. Between bites of eggs and sips of coffee she recalled a page in my story that I’d forgotten.
“I remember you used to collect little boxes, she said, smiling. “You had boxes of little boxes underneath your bed.”
Being known like that brought a smile to my face. Because many of my childhood memories were lost to the realities of survival, her recollection of that small detail was as if God was freezing a frame of my story and ascribing meaning to it.
Random recollections and seemingly insignificant snapshots of growing up often hold deep spiritual significance for us as adults. But often, we are too busy to connect the dots. Making time different that morning created a keen awareness within me, firing sensory synapses with curiosity. I knew God was revealing more than my love for small boxes.
That breakfast conversation happened six years ago. And I’ve been haunted by it ever since.
Making Mystery Manifest
As if I’d received a clue to a mystery, I searched my heart like a detective, trying to make sense of that quirky characteristic in my personality. Why does that small, hidden detail about who I am matter in the big picture of my life? What did those tiny boxes represent to me when I was a child? Why did my friend remember that specificity about who I am among a myriad of others she could’ve chosen?
The manifestation of our unique contributions to the world can seem inconsequential, random, and unimportant to us when lost in the translation of familiarity. What is curious to you is likely common to me. What is astounding to me is likely insignificant to you. That’s why being known and loved changes everything.
Recently, while in an imminent empty nest frenzy of reorganizing, recycling, re-purposing, and redecorating, I discovered that my love of small didn’t stop with boxes or maturity. A revelation of bud vases, miniature envelopes concealing buttons and a small silk bag holding a collection of acorns, buckeyes, a rose shaped pine cone, tiny shells, and colorful pebbles were all found in the process.
We live in a world that opens doors for big platform, ushers in celebrity, and measures influence and value by numbers of followers, views, and hearts. Small can be translated as invisible, insignificant, and a worthless waste of time. But that’s not how God defines smallness; no, not at all.
The boys pickled herring and barley loaves (John 6), the widow’s mite (Luke 21:1-4), a mustard seed (13:31-32), these were all overlooked as small, ordinary, and of no account until God made them invaluable through relationship.
The small details declare that we are fully known and deeply loved by Him.
If You Are Feeling Small
He knows every sparrow that falls to the ground and the number of hairs growing on our head (Matthew 10:29-31) Each tiny tear you’ve shed is captured in a bottle by him. A book in his library with your name on the spine holds evidence of love in ink from his pen. (Psalm 56:8) His thoughts about you outnumber the grains of sand in the world.
Think of the plastic casing on the end of a shoe string, microscopic threads that hold up the hem of your pant legs, the metal pull on the end of a zipper—how differently getting dressed and walking around would be without their usefulness.
A glance, a nod, a smile, a thank you, acknowledgment of faithfulness, or a focused conversation–when we give God the little that we have, he makes something of great value from of it. “It’s not from the grand but from every tiny thing that it grows enormous as if Someone was building Eternity as a swallow its nest out of clumps of moments,” writes Anna Kamienska in her beautiful poem, Small Things.
I’ve been drawn to small things since childhood. But I’ve allowed the big things in life to define me as an adult. When I assess my life by the number of big things I’ve accomplished, falling short returns me to feeling like a vulnerable child again. And small is God’s grace gift to me.
“I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.” (Matthew 18:2-4, MSG)
Once upon a time, I had a small window before the work day began and I met a childhood friend who played a small but very important role in my coming to faith story. During a short conversation over a short stack, she extracted a small frame from the big picture of my life and the aperture of my understanding was expanded.
Dozens of tiny boxes in various colors and shapes lying on the furry white rug underneath my twin bed represent openings for being known by him.
What we ascribe as hidden, random, insignificant detritus of no account, is known by God, and we are loved by Him for it. Yeah, I know how you love that color, that shape, that intricate detail that makes your eyes open and your heart sing. Pebbles, seed heads, and those weedy flowers you collected then pressed into glass were all created by me. I love that you noticed. Your small beginnings are significant because I assign meaning to them.
The small things of life are openings to be known by Him. And to become whole, we must recognize our emptiness first.
Small Things You Should Know About
In praise of small, I wanted to tell you, in case you weren’t aware, that Rhythms of Rest eBook is under $1 right now! The price of rest feels great amidst holiday busyness, but baby steps toward Sabbath lead to big life transformation. Go download a copy and buy one for all your friends! They will thank you between bites of turkey and pumpkin pie on Thursday.
One small decision you can make toward making rest realistic during the upcoming Advent season is to join the Sabbath Society community here. We’re meditating and pondering Psalm 23 in preparation and it’s changing all of us one line at a time. Once a week, I’ll remind of what matters when life becomes a river of activity threatening to carry you away with it.
You might have noticed, I’ve taken an uncharacteristic longish break from blogging. Well, three months is a record for me! In thanks for subscribing to this blog, I have a small offering of gifts for you to open. Free eBooks and a bevy of printable resources are accessible when you join the community here. I pray they will be an encouragement and help to you. My absence here means I’ve been busy creating content for something new. I’m excited to tell you about it soon but it’s not quite ready to share yet. My subscribers will be the first to know about it, so join the community today!
Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends! We’ll be enjoying the holiday with you from London.
I’ve always collected small things too…so this post really blessed me.
Lately I have bern feeling really small cos my darling daughter has said vile things to and about me 🙁
Without God, how would we go on????
Love you Shelly and loved this big blessing of a post.xx
Mary, I cannot for the life of me, imagine anyone saying “vile things” about or to you. That doesn’t at all sound like God’s heart. I’m so sorry. Thanks for being here. You are such a source of life, love, support and unceasing encouragement to me. My life is richer for knowing you. May the truth drown out the lies, may your heart be shielded by God’s hand, may His face shine upon you and give you peace. xx
Thank you. Shelly. xx
Good morning, Shelly. I’m an expat living in Normandy and a member of the Sabbath Society.
It’s daybreak and I have just finished reading your post and your latest sparrow entry on Instagram.
So beautiful, I can relate so well. I want you to know how much your words have meant to me this year.
My mom died last spring and children are leaving the nest. Remembering to simply rest and find comfort
and hope in God and in small things has been such a blessing! Last night while getting ready for bed the
hymn “His Eye is on the Sparrow” came back to me from childhood. I made a mental note to listen
to it this early morning during my coffee time and, lo and behold, I see your photo!
Thank you, Shelly, and Happy Thanksgiving! XXX
Ann, how lovely to meet another expat here. Thank you for connecting, I’m honored. God is so amazingly intimate in how he let’s us know that He is near, yes?! It brings deep joy to my heart knowing that the photo on IG and this post was part of God’s gift to you today. Holding up my cup of tea to you as we start this Wednesday morning. May our feet take us wherever God is glorified today.
I too, am a lover of small things, Shelly.
As if proof of my reputation for being so was required, last week I received an iMessage photograph and note from my daughter who is away at university. In it, an acorn and a twig of berries she had picked up on a wander, sit beside a tiny thrifted jug on her window-sill. The message; “I have a Mummy shelf!”
I’m inclined to think that childhood circumstances helped to shape my love of the small ‘present’ (received or found). My parents were missionaries in the Papuan jungle. In a culture devoid of the trappings of western materialism, it was easy to take delight in small gifts; they were, in fact, the only kind!
But something else was at play in my enchantment with the small… I also adored playing in a mossy embankment where I created a tiny village out of sticks, pebbles, seed pods and the like. To the best of my recollection I’d not been exposed to the concept of fairies or other elfin folk – I was simply designing what I knew to be a perfectly charming world for small people. I imagine it was sometimes a place I went to escape sibling quarrels or other childhood sadnesses, but I only recall it as a place and time of happy creativity – a child’s first attempt to represent an ordered, ideal place – Eden in miniature. Perhaps, in some mysterious way, it is what I still do in creating small, and often nature-based vignettes around my home. They are, in their way, both an expression of longing for the lost perfection, and a quiet way of inviting the Kingdom of God and His will to be done, here and now. Is that not, after all, what we pray?
Thank you for a thoughtful post that set me on reflections of my own.