Have you ever been faced with opposing but equally intriguing points of view? Take the perspective of small things for example. Some will say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” while others will tell you that “little things mean a lot.” We’ve all heard a variation of “He can’t see the forest for the trees” countered by “the devil is in the details.” One side recommends paying attention to the small things, while the other advises prioritizing what is most important, and keeping the big picture in mind. How is one to determine which option to take? Both propositions sound reasonable, and in our hurried way of life we are reluctant to spend more time than necessary on anything.
I think a good measure of discernment is necessary to correctly manage the small stuff/big stuff conundrum that we will all occasionally face.
Discernment is the ability to distinguish between good and bad, between an investment and a mere expense, between short-term pleasure and long-term benefit, and other such contrasting facts and experiences of life. Our maturity as adults is often demonstrated in our ability to make those kinds of distinctions. Some are easy to make, of course, but there are others that will require more thought and deliberation.
A tiny scratch on the car door might not be a big deal, but a tiny spot of oil on the driveway can signal a serious problem. It may seem a small thing to be cordial when registering a complaint with customer service but it may mean the difference between satisfaction and exasperation. Little things have the potential to become big things or to impact the big picture. All the more reason to pay more attention to them rather than dismissing them offhand. In business and relationships the small things add up and can affect our advancement, promotion, and success.
In Matthew 23:23-24, Jesus rebuked some of the religious leaders for emphasizing minor issues while neglecting weightier matters. He called them “blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” The point is that proper discernment and careful attention will enable us to give both big and small issues the appropriate value. After all, the big picture is a collaboration of the small details as they are understood, organized, managed and executed.
I loved to read Aesop’s fables when I was a child. As I’ve grown older, the stories and their meaning have taken on greater importance. The story of Androcles and the Lion tells how the slave Androcles escaped and sought refuge in the forest. He happened upon a Lion groaning in pain and faced with continuing his escape or tending to the wounded animal, he paused to remove a thorn from its paw. Later both the slave and the Lion were captured, with Androcles sentenced to death by being thrown to the hungry Lion.
The anticipated slaughter took an unexpected turn when the Lion raced toward Androcles intent upon devouring him until it recognized him as the kind stranger who had eased to his pain. The Lion licked his face with affection, and caused the Emperor to demand an explanation. Upon hearing the story, both Androcles and the Lion were set free. The slave’s little thing, pausing to tend to the wounded animal, led to a bigger consequence: his life and his freedom.
May God give us the wisdom and the grace to properly discern between the various matters of our lives, and to give the appropriate attention to both the big issues and the small things that we face. May we discover that what Jesus said in Luke 16:10 was true, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much.”
Bishop Patrick L. Kelly is the pastor of Cathedral Church of God, 365 S. Dixie Hwy., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. 954-427-0302.