This Lent will be a little different from previous ones for me. Personal responsibilities will make it difficult to make “big plans,” such as setting aside significant times of fasting, major volunteer activities or going on retreat.
To be sure, my observance will include more prayer throughout these 40 days, and I will try to be more intent on listening to God’s will for me; there sure is much to work on in my life, inside and out!
However, as for actions to accompany personal, spiritual development, instead of a grand project or Lenten resolution, I most especially hope to be attentive to the little ways, the small things I can do to strengthen my relationship with God and the people around me.
Our world tends to focus (and report on) what is grand in the world, even when it comes to doing good things. Large gestures (millions of dollars given to causes), immense efforts (collective responses to widespread needs) – these often make the headlines.
This Lent, in my much more limited corner of the world, I’m going to aim for action in the day-to-day, my immediate vicinity, where encounters with others and moments spent with God offer opportunities for growth and giving.
This focus on small things is inspired by St. Teresa of Kolkata, whose quote, “Don’t look for big things. Just do small things with great love,” is a favorite for many.
Her example of tending to the poor, one by one, of taking the moments of each day and filling them with seemingly minor, but beautiful, caring actions, is wonderful encouragement, especially today when it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the fast-moving complexities of daily life.
Small, within the context of faith, does not mean insignificant. Humility, patience, gratitude – these and other virtues can be strengthened through seemingly everyday activities.
The minutes spent waiting in line at the supermarket can be transformed into a time for helping someone else if we look for the need. Perhaps someone behind in the supermarket checkout line could benefit from us giving up our place to them. Or we might allow someone else to take the closer parking spot instead of darting ahead to secure it for ourselves.
Arriving for Mass a few minutes early and gathering ourselves into a private and public space for prayer and worship, far from minor actions, prepares us to more fully hear God’s word and knit ourselves in closer fellowship with others. Expressing gratitude to friends, even if time is short for long conversations, can be powerful encouragement – no small matter in a challenging world!
Last year, in a previous column, I described the complications I encountered when I wanted to give away many of the items I no longer needed. It seemed, at first, to be a small thing to do, but I soon learned how complicated it was.
Gathering items, finding someone to accept them, scheduling the crew – these turned out to be much more logistically challenging than I expected. Yet, love in many ways emerged as the process came to a wonderful conclusion.
Similarly, although I hope to focus on small things this Lent, I do not expect the experience to be simplistic.
Reflecting on God’s presence during a hectic day takes perseverance, even courage, if the worldly noise around is deafening. Reaching out to address a need nearby might create more scheduling “knots” that need untying – inevitable complications of being in the world, but not of the world.
However, great love, the not-so-secret ingredient in St. Teresa’s quote, cannot be underestimated. Through it, throughout Lent, small things bring warm light.
Pratt’s website is www.maureenpratt.com. Pratt is a columnist for Catholic News Service.