The Tiny Things

The exert below was taken from Elizabeth Elliot’s book Keep A Quiet Heart

When we were growing up our parents taught us, by both word and example, to pay attention to little things. If you do a thing at all, do it thoroughly: make the sheets really smooth on the bed, sweep all the corners and move all the chairs when you sweep the kitchen, roll the toothpaste tube neatly and put the cap back on, clean the hair out of the brush each time you use it, hang your towel straight on the rod, fold your napkin and put it in the silver ring right before you leave the table, never wet your finger when you turn pages. They kept promises made to us as faithfully as they kept those made to adults. They taught us to do the same. You didn’t accept an invitation to a party and then not turn up, or agree to help with Vacation Bible School and back out because a more interesting activity presented itself. The only financial debt my parents ever incurred was a mortgage on a house, which my father explained was in a special class because it was real estate which would always have value.

When I went to boarding school the same principles I had been taught at home were emphasized. There was a hallway with small oriental rugs which we called “Character Hall” because the headmistress, Mrs. DuBose, could look down that hall from the armchair where she sat in the lobby and spot any student who kicked up a corner of a rug and did not replace it. She would call out to correct him “It’s those tiny things in your life which will crack you even when you get out of this school!” In the little things our character was revealed. Our response would make or break us. “Don’t go around with a Bible under your arm if you didn’t sweep under the bed,” she said, for she would have no pious talk coming out of a messy room.

“Great thoughts go best with common duties. Whatever therefore may be your office regard it as a fragment in an immeasurable ministry of love” [Bishop Brooke Foss Wescott, b. 1825].

It is not easy to find children or adults who are dependable, careful, thorough, and faithful. So many lives seem honeycombed with small failures, neglectful of the little things that make the difference between order and chaos. Perhaps it is because they are so seldom taught that visible things are signs of invisible reality; that common duties may be “an immeasurable ministry of love.” The spiritual training of souls must be inseparable from practical disciplines, as Jesus so plainly taught; “The man who can be trusted in little things can be trusted in great; the man who is dishonest in little things will be dishonest in great. If then you cannot be trusted with money, that tainted thing, who will trust you with genuine riches! And if you cannot be trusted with what is not yours, who will give you what is your very own?” (Luke 16:10-12). (The footnote to “your very own” says, “Jesus is speaking of most intimate possessions a man can have; those that are spiritual.”)

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