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The power of doing something small

power of small

Maybe it was growing up in a family where I didn’t always feel heard, or somewhere tucked in the years I felt I was never enough; somehow I managed to equate doing something good with doing something big. When I graduated from high school I was chosen to give the commencement address. My speech all those many years ago was titled: Making A Difference.

In it, I told a story that happened almost 40 years ago now, at the Seattle Special Olympics:

At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with the relish to run the race to the finish. And win. All that is, but one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The others heard the boy cry and a few turned around and went back. One little girl with Down’s Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.” Then they linked arms, and walked together to the finish line.

I wrote that by memory because all those years ago the power of the story tucked itself so deeply in my heart. It’s a beautiful story. An incredible image of compassion, community and truly coming alongside. But looking back on it, I realize that for most of my life I believed that in order to make a difference I needed to do something great. The Olympians who turned around and went back did an incredibly big thing. They sacrificed their own race to help an opponent. They went back for someone who had fallen behind and this wasn’t just any race. It was the Olympics!

As this story settled deeply into my subconscious, so too did the belief that great things equate to BIG things. Not necessarily for everyone, but for me. As though my worthiness weighed on a different scale: I needed to earn it. If there was a problem to be solved, then I needed to fix it.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift from God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

The older I get the more I see I was wrong. It’s rarely ever our big things that make a lasting difference. Sometimes the big things don’t ever really matter at all. We have nothing to earn and nothing to prove by making ourselves great.  So many times I’ve missed the opportunity to help someone because I got so focused on the problem and couldn’t see how I could fix it. In looking for a big solution, I missed all the small ways to love.

We were prepared in advance to do good works, which means they’re going to happen despite us. Despite our inabilities, our insecurities or our weakness. Most likely, they’re going to happen because of them. Perhaps there is far more power in us learning to become small.

More often than not it’s the small, simple things that make the biggest impact. The things we don’t even know we’re doing are usually the very things that have the greatest potential to change a life. The simple act of being aware, paying attention and showing up for our life.

Without question, the story from the Special Olympics was a big thing. These athletes train long and hard for their events and are every bit as committed to winning as any other athlete. But the truth is their story only became big in retrospect. It was exaggerated and publicized because of the small act a few compassionate runners made. The Special Olympics oath is: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” I have a suspicion that those who turned back weren’t looking to do something big. They were just trying to be brave with their life.

Something that mattered much more than a race.

It reminds me of how we are called to live. Not looking for ways to be big, but for opportunities to be brave. Right where we are. Beth Moore said: “God has more than random acts of kindness for us. He has appointments. Let’s not miss them just because we can’t fix them.”

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, “come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you” – when you already have it with you.

We’re simply asked to be generous with the gifts and abilities we have been given, right where we are. Right in our own lane. When we have the power to act, to have the courage to do it. To not question and wonder, or delay until tomorrow what we have the ability to do today. Just because we can’t fix a problem doesn’t mean we can’t show up and offer something in love. These will never be great things by our standards, because they’re ordinary. But God does extraordinary things through ordinary obedience.

The greatest things are small things.

All those years ago I made that speech and I’ve never stopped desiring it to be true. But in some ways, I got sidetracked. In my attempt to make a difference I thought I needed to change myself first. I believed that somehow I needed to become more, better, braver or bigger to serve well. I thought I needed to fix the whole problem or not try at all. But all He ever asked was from me was to show up. We don’t have to change the world in order to make a difference. We don’t need to become more or better before we can serve. So maybe instead of thinking so big we begin to learn how to love small – knowing that the things that ultimately matter most, will probably look like the things that matter least.

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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Tara May 4, 2015, 8:45 am

    This is great. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to be more present and in the moment, particularly with my toddler. So often, my brain flies off to solve problems or plan toward goals when I should be focused on the most important, small thing right in front of me: him. Thanks for sharing.

  • Karen M Roth May 4, 2015, 4:00 pm

    Honey, I am so loving the Special Olympics story you shared today. It has to be the most beautiful story ever, next to God’s love for us. My husband is Developmentally Disabled with Social Anxiety and depression and ADHD. I have been forced to learn the small acts of Love you are talking about. I was a “perfectionist” for thirty nine years of my life until I met my husband of 11 years. He showed me how to love in little ways such as this : he knows that I am in love with simple Quartz rocks. So one day when I was crying out loud to God for pain relief and healing. My hubby was very upset because I was using my “ugly” crying, you know the kind where you are actually wailing, well , he took the dog with him and quickly left. I did not know where because he did not tell me. I started getting a little bit worried about him as he had been gone for 8 hours and it was getting dark. Right about that time he walked in with his shirt drenched in sweat.. I started to scold him for not having told me where he had gone. Right then he came over and gave me a simple peck of a kiss and a hug and man was he ripe, phew, anyway, he grinned at me and said that he had a present for me in the car. So I wobbled to the van with my cane and lo and behold–the front floor and the back seats were covered in Quartz rocks varying in sizes from pebbles to a huge chunk that must have weighed 10 pounds!! He had gone to my favorite place in the mountains and carried out every single one in his shirt in his hope that it would make my pain lessen and to make me smile. Every time I think of his show of God’s love for me I smile and weep tears of joy. I put them in my flower beds. So for the drought periods of his own love for me I just go out and look at all the Quartz he brought me that and I am reminded of just how much my husband loves me.

    • Tammy May 6, 2015, 12:44 pm

      Karen….I am sitting here reading this with tears streaming down my face. Wow. A love like that defies everything of this world. So beautiful. THANK YOU for sharing. xoxo

  • Meghan Cobble May 7, 2015, 9:25 am


    I love your words here:

    “The older I get the more I see I was wrong. It’s rarely ever our big things that make a lasting difference. Sometimes the big things don’t ever really matter at all.”

    I completely agree. My mantra is #lifeisbiginthelittle I seek the small ways that impact others as well as myself. Looking forward to knowing you a little more from now until September’s meeting.



    • Tammy May 7, 2015, 12:49 pm

      Me too Meghan! I cannot wait. #lifeisbiginthelittle Amen. 🙂 xoxo

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