If the New Year is about anything, it’s about new beginnings. New calendars, new habits, new numbers after the “20.”
The optimists, the ones who see the glass half-full, see this newness as something exciting, something they’ve been waiting for their entire lives, something full of possibilities and potential. This year, they think, is the year. The year to finally start that new exercise regimen, read that novel, save that money, floss every day. To paraphrase Anne of Green Gables, these people say: “Isn’t it nice to think that 2018 is a new year with no mistakes in it yet?”
Which leads to the other types of people: the pessimists (or as they like to categorize themselves, “the realists”), the ones who see things a little differently. Yes, there’s a new year ahead with no mistakes in it… yet. But that’s going to change real soon. After all, it’s just another year. Plus, there’s a reason gyms offer more memberships than they have room or equipment: they know people will pay the monthly fee, but they also know it’s very likely they won’t actually show up on a regular basis.
There’s something to be said about human nature in both these types: we love new beginnings, but we also know old habits die hard. We live in this tension between hope and cynicism. Most of us are never completely one type or the other.
But there’s something to be said about a different kind of new beginnings: small ones.
Sure, it’s more exciting to have big, new, impressive, splashy beginnings. And yet most of our new beginnings are small. We started small, as a cluster of rapidly dividing cells. Our days are successions of small moments, small decisions that stack up: hitting the snooze button, drinking our coffee when it’s still too hot, smiling and saying “hello” to that random person we passed on the sidewalk, going down that rabbit trail of funny zoo animal clips online.
We have those “big days,” the ones with weddings, funerals, the birth of a child, a promotion at work, crossing the finish line. But there are mostly small days, days where not very much happens. Or at least, nothing big happens, and we make mostly small decisions, that may not have huge implications in that moment. In the long run, though, these small beginnings and decisions accumulate to determine our future.
In Zechariah 4:10, we are told not to despise small beginnings, but that the Lord rejoices in these small beginnings. In Mark 4:30, Jesus tells us the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, which begins as a small seed and then grows large enough for birds to build their nests in its branches. God is a big God, an infinite God, a God who is powerful and at times overwhelming. But he is also a God who sees the sparrow, who chooses the lowly and humble to do his work, who values small things with small beginnings. Small things like us, and small beginnings like ours.
As leaders, we can get discouraged when we expect big things, and they don’t seem to come.
We start off thinking: this will be the year we see more people come to Jesus! This will the year real spiritual growth happens! This will be the year my preaching, my worship songs, my writing, my musicianship, really takes off and makes an impact!
And then: crickets. Or worse: silence.
We put in our time, our passion, our very selves into these big projects and big dreams and big, new things, and then it doesn’t pay off. Little, if anything, seems to happen or pan out.
Ambition isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but sometimes the big things crowd out the little things that are the small steps toward God’s much larger story. We think our best year yet hinges on us and our efforts, when in reality, it hinges on the Lord and his plans for us and for the world.
Recently, I was challenged to go to God in prayer in those little, everyday moments, seeing what it is God would have me do, how he would have me behave, respond, and act. And I realized, in those little moments, I usually take control of my life, and I don’t allow God to direct me, center me, or give me perspective. I think I’m in control, and make decisions accordingly, and then I look back on my day and realize in my small moments, my small beginnings, I’m living as a practical atheist.
Perhaps 2018 is the big year. But maybe it could be the year of small beginnings. Rather than only resolving to do the big things, resolve to consider the small things in your daily life, the little decisions. Those moments matter to God. He rejoices in them. The Kingdom of Heaven is contained in them.