“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid… and he gives me courage.” – Gandalf from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
This past week has been kind of surreal. After five years of searching I managed to reconnect with a stranger who shared with me some of the profoundest insight on life I’d ever received. More than right words, they came at a time when I was trying to find myself. Those words were water to a parched soul. Though we were complete strangers, this person made an impact on my life I never forgot. This past week all my searching came to an end when I found them Facebook. Without a second thought, I messaged them.
Then I got nervous.
More than the uncertainty as to whether or not it was right person, I was afraid they wouldn’t remember me. Sure, that conversation may have been monumental to me but who remembers every random interaction they have? But the possibility of being influenced by something someone doesn’t even remember got me thinking: what if we have a deeper impact on people than we even realize because the little things we do matter more than we think?
A student of mine occasionally tells this story of how she got involved with InterVarsity: she attended our student rally where I presented the gospel (a lot of it without notes, mind you) and something small I said, something I don’t even remember (hopefully it was the Holy Spirit), got her thinking. She recommitted her life to Jesus that night and has been a part of our community ever since. Now things are changing for her and she attributes it to that one night, which is still beyond my recollection.
There are moments when I try to be deep or witty or cool only to have it fall on deaf ears and unimpressed crowds. But it’s always the small things that somehow resonate more. I find this both encouraging and discouraging.
Discouraging because I’m a sucker for the grandiose. Maybe it’s all the Disney channel I watched growing up but I like coming through in a major way. I’ve traveled an hour and a half via Amtrak for a teddy bear. I once wrote and recorded a song asking a girl to prom. I’ve even worked three jobs just to visit my girlfriend who lived out of the country and that’s just the tip of the iceberg (you should ask me about UC Davis some time). Yet no matter how grand the gesture, the little things always seem to overshadow it; and that makes me mad.
We want our big gestures to count. We plan them with a particular response in mind (rewards, accolades, praise, etc.) and yet it’s for that exact reason smaller gestures always trump our grandiose actions. While big gestures may reflect the person doing them, they don’t always. Anyone can write a song, buy a star, or plan a surprise but it’s the small things we absentmindedly do that portray who we really are. Something about that reminds me of God. We can hide behind the grandiose but it’s the miniscule that exposes us.
This isn’t to say we should stop our big actions. Those matter too. After all, the person loved their bear, the girl said yes to being my prom date, and the woman I flew out of the country for is now my wife. At the very least they make for interesting stories and at the most they are tremendous expressions of our care. However, to believe that our grand actions somehow make up for the small, every day things is self-deception. Small actions speak louder and it’s in this we find our encouragement: we are impacting more people than we realize or even remember. How cool is that?