The Great Deception – That little things really don’t matter


Creative Commons: Adam Bermingham

Every day that we’re breathing we’re making countless decisions that range from minor to major concerning multiple aspect of our lives – whether food, finances or family, to career, creativity or care. Frequently the major things trump the minor – since there are certain responsibilities in life that have to be fulfilled. We mustn’t neglect these crucial parts of our lives; but neither should we let the interludes and short spaces of time slip away unnoticed.

The little things are not necessarily unimportant or trivial – take teeth brushing or charging our phones, for instance. We wouldn’t dream of removing them from our daily routine. We know they make a difference.

In the same way, I’ve been considering the impact of small actions, gestures or habits over our lives as a whole. It’s tempting to overlook the little things, to view them as insignificant or of no great value. Yet much of life is made up of little things. Over time, those minor choices and habits may have multiple knock on effects that end up being life changing or radically important. Countless minutes here and there add up to hours and days. Time is like currency, the pennies add up; likewise our actions form the tapestry of our lives.

Consider a common spending habit: The decision to make your own lunch every day instead of dropping into a café could mean saving £50 a month (if you spent £1.50 on a packed lunch rather than £4.00 or more at your favourite hangout). That’s a £600 yearly saving. You could buy an iPad for that and still have change! But maybe you really like going to cafes and don’t want an iPad – that’s fine, the choice is yours. We all have different preferences. But if you wanted to move somewhere nicer with a slightly higher rent, changing your lunch habits could mean you might be able to afford it.

Or how about walking more instead of driving everywhere? (I know, really not very possible for those out in the sticks.)  Still, you could choose to take the stairs or park at the far end of the car park. Over time, you’ll be stacking up little chunks of calorie burners and toning those muscles. (Have you tried walking fast up three flights of stairs lately? It IS exercise!)

The above examples might well be the obvious examples, but what about other daily decisions? Who to follow on Twitter or who to talk to at the end of a meeting? Whether to attend a certain function or event or stay home, whether to ask that person out for coffee? Whether to write that letter of complaint (I did – to Legoland, and got free tickets to Warwick Castle) or whether to chat to your neighbour for a few minutes. Whether to watch the TV or find out what’s up with your unusually quiet child?

‘Does it really matter?’ some will be asking right now.

Yes it does! Sometimes it may be more significant than you realise, other times the little things might have no great consequence – but still, you’ll find that you’ve been intentional with your actions, your time and your relationships.

Valuing the little things should not be confused with the phrase ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’. That’s a different idea altogether – and one that I would not dispute in any way. We really shouldn’t waste time worrying or fretting over minor matters that are not important or that we’re unable to change. It’s also not much use revisiting past events or actions, wondering where we went wrong or what we should have done differently. Instead of mulling over past decisions, choose to take more care over what you decide in future.

Sometimes it’s good to think of little snippets of time as opportunities. An opportunity to phone a friend, or to be still and reflect. An opportunity to get some fresh air or to do something creative; an opportunity to ask a question or take a risk.

It’s easy to think that five minutes of writing or praying or walking won’t make any difference. Most won’t bother; we think we have to set aside at least an hour to something for it to be worth doing. Or we think we must dash away, and miss talking to someone who could have been really interesting. Or maybe we think that we couldn’t possibly rest for three minutes. (Try it sometimes, three minutes with your eyes closed in a quiet place – it can really help to de-stress  you during a manic day. Just don’t try it while driving!)

Making the most of little moments, like a hand across your partner’s shoulder or choosing to look at the trees or the skyline on your way to work, can add up to make a typical dull day richer or more interesting. No matter how busy we are, we even have choice over how to spend our thought life. While walking or driving or washing up, we can choose to direct our thoughts a certain way. We don’t have to hold on to an angry thought or a complaint.

For me, what springs to mind especially are the little interactions that I bothered to have with people I met that led to great opportunities.

I once asked a visiting speaker at a school where I was teaching whether he needed any writers. An exchange of business cards at the end of a lesson – led to a freelance writing opportunity for me. Another time, a decision to follow a certain person on Twitter, led to a writing event in London. The little things certainly can make a difference to our lives.

In the Bible, there’s a verse about ‘making the most of every opportunity’ [Colossians 4:5]. Although this is referring to sharing the good news with non-believers, I think it serves well to remind us how to make the most of every moment of our lives, in every context. Let’s not get sucked into the great deception – that we can only achieve something or make a difference if we spend lots of time on something. Taking just a little time to smile at someone or offer help can be something really significant from their point of view. Likewise, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ communicates more than you think.

The little things in our day accumulate over the years – particularly in the area of relationships. A few minutes spent thinking about the important people in your life and how to please them or build stronger ties can make a massive difference over time. It would be detrimental to dismiss the value of little thoughts, words and deeds.

I feel challenged to be more intentional about how I spend snippets of spare time across the week and to consider more how little actions can indeed have big effects. How about you? Has any small decision or action been greatly significant to you in the long run?

[For a contrasting perspective on matters of time and life, check out this archived post: A Question of Time.]

Youthwork Blog/ FaithWalk


I recently attended a Youthwork Writers’ Masterclass in London, led by Martin Saunders. I had a great day learning some nifty writing stuff and met a bunch of lovely people.

Check out my guest blog post ‘The Adult Group’ over at Youthwork Magazine’s website. The article explores how we view youth in a church setting and the trouble with treating young people as a homogeneous group.

The Huhne Effect: What parents can learn from one man’s fall from grace

My older sons have yet to enter the world of serious texters, those who fire off dozens of messages, questions or inane thoughts every day. Despite owning mobile phones for quite some time now, the allure of being in constant contact with anyone, not least me, hasn’t quite taken off. This may be in part due to the fact that the phones generally get left at home and partly because they’ve yet to be enamoured by girls seeking their attention. Playing games on their iPod Touches still seems to be the preferred digital activity. So, for the time being anyway, our conversations or disagreements take place largely in person. (And I dread the thought of every exchange between me and an irate son being forever put to print.)

One thing’s for sure. Most parents in Britain will have learned a thing or two from the disclosure of texts between disgraced politician Chris Huhne and his teenage son, Peter. Most will have reeled in shock at the blatant hatred and profanity contained within Peter’s messages or cringed at the sheer extent of insults contained within his words. Teenagers aren’t known for thinking before expressing their opinion; texts are no different in this respect.

The personal exchanges between a bitter son and his errant father are poignant, for they reveal the extent to which a child can feel deeply hurt and let down by their parent’s actions. The words chosen by Peter reflect a sense of utter betrayal, while the pleas of desperation for his father to come clean show how much children can possess a strong sense of justice concerning wrongdoing (if they have been brought up within any strong moral framework). To witness a parent stoop so low morally has long-lasting, devastating effects on a child and we gain painful insight into the massive effort that will be needed to restore some semblance of a relationship once such damage has been inflicted.

Despite Huhne’s catalogue of indiscretions, most parents will feel a tinge of compassion for the man considering the dire circumstances in which he now finds himself. For we, too, are fallible. Hopefully not wilfully deceitful and law-breaking as in Huhne’s case; but we know we fail at parenting sometimes, too, and that our children can be easily disappointed by our inability to live up to their expectations of what constitutes a perfect parent.

In Huhne’s favour lies the obvious expression of patience and love for his son, speaking kindly even in the face of such vitriolic outbursts from his own flesh and blood.  And so a parent should rightly respond; we are the grownups, the ones supposedly capable of rational, measured responses. We also see the bigger picture – a future in which the ties between us and our child remain, no matter what may have come between them. Nothing is worth severing that bond – and perhaps we should all consider the consequences of our actions beforehand instead of trying to repair damage afterwards.

In putting forth his point of view calmly and not ceasing to write genuine messages of care, Huhne may well have demonstrated his one major saving grace in this debacle in the public eye: that of an unrelenting, loving parent. In doing so, he has also unwittingly reflected the father heart of God, who never ceases to love his children, despite their flaws and angry rants. Unlike Huhne, though, God is a faithful, perfect father who never lies to his children. God remains committed to us, even when we’re verging on losing faith or feel wounded by what’s been allowed to occur in our lives. He never stops loving us, but continues to extend his compassion and grace. How comforting to know that God’s words to us can always be trusted, since he is wholly infallible and good.

For all the furore surrounding this very public family breakdown, I would hope that all parents glean something positive from this story, including the value of both personal and professional integrity.

The Perils of Procrastination


Image: Vilseskogen, Creative Commons

I’m sitting here writing because the mood has struck yet I’m painfully aware that I have a couple of deadlines to meet – namely long schools presentations that I must have nailed to near perfection for rehearsals next week. For the last few weeks, they’ve been on my radar, the paperwork imploring me to get to it and learn it. I’ve done all sorts of other preparation – highlighting, creating prompt cards, recording the presentations on my phone – but the main thrust of the task exists in staring at those cards and reciting them ad nauseam until the words flow effortlessly from my tongue.

But I keep procrastinating, finding other activities and jobs to do – whether folding laundry (which for a family of five is an almost never-ending task), planning future events, writing or lurking on Twitter. Incoming phone calls have been allowed to linger for longer than usual and distractions from the children have been strangely welcomed – anything to avoid getting down to learning those texts.

You’d think I would have learnt by now that it’s good to complete tasks way before deadlines. I’ve experienced the dread of getting a 10,000 word final year dissertation complete (in German, even more terrifying) – and realising the foolishness of not pacing myself.  I’ve panicked after staying up to ungodly hours to get lesson plans done for an observation or inspection, all the while chiding myself for not getting them sorted at least a week before. I’ve cringed with embarrassment at the naff Valentines card I bought my husband one year, when we were living in New York City and I put off looking for one until late afternoon on the 13th. There are no major supermarkets stuffed full of Hallmark in central Manhattan; the shelves of all the bookstores and local shops were alarmingly bereft of suitable cards by 4.30pm. Why did I even leave it so late? (Admittedly there are a million and one distractions in NYC, and we hadn’t been there long so I was still finding my way around, searching for apartments and sorting out admin for the start of our expat life. Making a card was not an option, as we were staying in a hotel.)

Anyway, you get the idea. I’ve definitely been a pro at procrastinating. I started to change tack in the last few years when I realised how much stress could be avoided by getting things done way in advance of deadlines. Having children with unpredictable crises now and again (such as throwing up all night) taught me that I cannot rely on living my life last minute. I think much of this has to do with how one was brought up – and, yes, my parents were equally haphazard with timing, often rushing everywhere and leaving things ‘til the last minute.

Procrastination causes unnecessary stress. Which in turn makes you grumpy to those around who have to endure your panicked tirades about what you desperately must get done before it’s too late. It also turns every event – even joyful ones such as a family get-together – into far from joyful occasions. Instead of being free to enjoy such a date, you’re hurried and in a flap over all the things you need to organise because they’ve been put off until they absolutely had to be done. If you’re a procrastinator, you’re constantly running two steps behind, never really at ease with being in the moment. You can’t relax. And here’s the irony – all the time you spend putting things off, your thoughts are still constantly invaded by the task. You end up spending far more mind and soul energy on the task than you would have done if you just got to it earlier. I decided that the habit had to be broken.

How? Simply by being ruthless. Almost imagining that a deadline is in fact several days or weeks earlier and putting it at the top of a list of priorities, rather than letting it be pushed aside in favour of other events and distractions. For less major occasions and dates, this still involves making sure that everything is ready so that you can leave the house in good time. (I’m still learning this one. At the weekend, I felt quite smug about turning up on time at a restaurant to meet friends, only to soon discover that I was at the wrong restaurant! Thankfully, I was still within the time frame, as I had left in good time and could get to the correct one before they had seated). ‘Be prepared’ is a worthy motto, not just for Scouts, I’ve learned.

The result? Life is more peaceful, and you feel ready for the task at hand. Instead of constantly thinking: ‘I could have done that so much better if I’d just had a little more time’, you feel content that you have given something your best shot and secure in the knowledge that you are not letting others down. So to any other procrastinators out there, all I can say is – stop labelling yourself and decide to turn away from this frightful habit. And when procrastination tries to wrangle its way back into your daily pattern, use every ounce of strength to show it the door. The stress relief will be oh so worth it.

And with that thought, I’m off to learn those scripts…