What are the most consequential decisions we make? What choices most shape the people we’ll become and the impact we’ll leave?
Years ago, I struggled mightily as I neared the end of college, grappling with what I imagined to be the great crossroads of my life.
My parents embodied one potential route. It was rooted, local, steady. They’d raised my three brothers and me in the same community where Dad grew up. He taught at the local high school. Mom taught in public schools, too, when not raising my three brothers and me.
Aunt Marlene and Uncle Gary modeled the other path. They’ve lived all over the world, going wherever they sensed God leading – Bolivia to North Carolina, Peru to Hawaii to Sri Lanka—in roles ranging from missionary and pastor to college professor.
Which path, I often wondered, would lead to the richest experiences and deepest impact?
I loved the roots my parents grew deep into California’s Central Valley. Their life yielded long friendships and rich fruit growing in generations of students and neighbors. But Marlene and Gary had something special, too. They left behind them a trail of uncommon friendships, marvelous adventures, and lasting impact all over the world.
These two paths seemed polar opposites to me. But as the years have passed, I’ve observed something unexpected. Despite the notable differences, the lives of both couples show, undeniably, remarkably similar outcomes. I see in both the kind of vibrant fruitfulness I hope will define my own life as well.
The simple truth is that for both Mom and Dad and Marlene and Gary, it was not chiefly the big decisions that led to this result. Certainly, choices of vocation and location played a part. But what I now see made the largest difference was the small, oft-repeated choices they made each day as they sought to follow Jesus, whatever the place or task before them.
It came from the way Dad let students keep him late after school to talk over their struggles… the way he held together such gentleness and strength as a father and a friend… how I never once heard Mom pass on hurtful gossip… how she’d most always ask good questions rather than talk about herself. I also saw it in the way Marlene and Gary expressed gratefulness in both plenty and in want… how they’d open their home to just about anyone… and how they’d remember things you told them when most others forgot.
These easy-to-overlook choices became the rhythms of their lives. Steadily, chosen actions became habits, then character, then the lasting fruit of lives well-lived.
Small things, I now see, most shaped the people they became and the legacy they are leaving. That’s not to say that their major decisions didn’t have important consequences. But my sense now is that most of those big choices were made long before they reached them – determined by the countless “small” choices that’d come before.
So we ask again: What are the most important decisions we’ll make?
Here’s what I’d propose. Nothing will more shape the person we’ll become or the impact we’ll leave behind than the small, oft-repeated choices we make every day.
Some of that, I believe, flows simply from the cumulative power of habit. A single snowflake won’t bend even a blade of grass. A mountainside of snowflakes can become an avalanche that tears mighty oaks from their roots.
I see that principle at play as my kids memorize Bible verses each week. We aim for just one per week. But years of that practice means my 15-year old daughter Siena has hundreds of verses memorized, all of them shaping her heart and character in marvelous and mysterious ways.
Little choices, oft’-repeated, can remake a life.
Over time, seemingly small choices can make a profound difference – for our lives, and for those we serve. We see this in how walking for just two minutes each hour can notably increase your lifespan. How hand-washing can save more lives than the most costly medical intervention. How simple limit-setting by parents measurably grows attention and impulse control in children who’ve experienced adversity. How shifting your posture boosts your ability to solve problems. How writing just a few sentences once a week on things you’re thankful for makes you measurably happier and reduces trips to the doctor.
Little choices, oft’-repeated, can remake a life.
But mark this. It is not only the natural law of accumulation that give small choices their power. There is a deeper law at work here as well. If the Bible is to be believed, at the very center of all things is the God who takes what is small and makes it large. What is often overlooked and cast aside, God sees, God honors, and God multiplies.
What is often overlooked and cast aside, God sees, God honors, and God multiplies.
He sees the little choices no one else observes. Whispered prayers. Quiet faithfulness.
He honors the unseen acts and hidden service no one else will thank us for. The shepherd’s heart. The widow’s mite.
He multiplies the smallest act of love. Like loaves and fish. Like a mustard seed.
And what the world often fails to notice can steadily reshape lives and landscapes. As raindrops. As gentle winds.
Indeed, our little daily choices often become the very material God uses to forge our character… to restore weary hearts around us… and to mend the fabric of a torn world.
So, what is CAFO’s 2020 theme?
little things can (re)make a life
YOU are invited … to join remarkable men and women from across the US and around the globe at SMALL MATTERS… where we’ll explore together the small choices that can remake lives – both our own and those we serve.