Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Small Things Make a Big Difference (Part II)

I am back from my trip to Notre Dame University and able to do what I wasn't able to do on a smart tablet: publish the next installment of this article:

From "The Little Way: The Power of Small Things (Luke 13:18-21)"
Richard J. Vincent, 2006

Small Spiritual Steps

Small acts result in big change over time. This includes spiritual formation. Instead of tackling huge commitments in order to effect drastic changes, we would do well to start small. Over time, the small steps will add up and lead to a great end.

For example, many people would like to read the entire Bible. This is a good goal to have. But the Bible is an intimidating book. It is ancient, large, and the content is often confusing. This big goal triggers big fear. It is easy to fail with such a big goal. But what if you started with smaller goals? A commitment to read one proverb a day (which would take seconds) would be a good start. Once this becomes a habit, you can then advance to one psalm a day, or one paragraph a day. Eventually, this may add up to a chapter a day, or even a book. Who knows?

The same thing applies to those who have trouble praying regularly. What if you committed to saying the Lord’s Prayer out loud once a day? It would take you all of thirty seconds, but this small act would begin to build the habit of daily prayer into your life. Plus, the longer you reflect on the content of the prayer, the more meaningful it becomes.
It daily calls you to speak to God intimately as your perfect parent ("Our Father"),
to relish God’s otherness ("Hallowed by Thy name"),
to seek first God’s kingdom and will ("Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done"),
to depend on God for your basic needs ("Give us this day our daily bread"),
to show and receive mercy for daily shortcomings ("Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors"),
to watch out for temptation ("Lead us not into temptation"),
and to give all glory to God ("For Thine is the kingdom, power, and glory").
Once you are in the pattern of praying the Lord’s Prayer, you can begin to personalize its features. You may wish to add one request, or give thanks for a blessing, or seek help with one particular temptation, and so forth. Little by little you can build up a prayer life that is rich and full. But, in order to get there, you must start somewhere – and the Lord’s Prayer, as simple and small as it is, is a rich and full place to start!
The power of small acts can also improve our relationships. Our desire to express perfect love, giving, and service to others sets us up to fail. Who can truly live up to the flawless pattern Jesus provides? But, what if, instead of establishing a big goal, we pursued a more modest goal? What if we decided to love just a little bit more than we expect to be loved in return? To give just a little bit more than we expect to receive? To serve just a little bit more than we expect to be served? What if we simply tried to love, give, and serve – not perfectly – but just a little bit more, each day?

Perhaps what our relationships need is not a major overhaul (although some certainly do!) but a tune-up. According to Dr. John Gottman, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, the difference between a happily and miserable marriage depends upon the presence of a few small actions of positive attention. A study conducted among volunteer couples in a special condominium set up as a laboratory for observing behavior provided the following insights:
"One of the study’s major findings was that in the successful relationship, positive attention outweighed negative on a daily basis by a factor of five to one. This positive attention wasn’t about dramatic actions like throwing over-the-top birthday parties or purchasing a dream home. It took the form of small gestures, such as

! using a pleased tone of voice when receiving a phone call from the partner, as opposed to an exasperated tone or a rushed pace that implied the partner’s call was interrupting important tasks

! inquiring about dentist appointments of other details of the other person’s day

! putting down the remote control, newspaper, or telephone when the other partner walked through the door

! arriving home at the promised time – or at least calling if there was a delay

These small moments turned out to be more predictive of a loving, trusting relationship than were the more innovative steps of romantic vacations and expensive presents. Possibly, that’s because small moments provide consistent tending and nurturing." (Maurer, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, 167-168)