Somewhere between the villages of Corniglia and Vernazza, along the narrow trail that connects the five fishing villages of Italy’s Cinque Terre, I came to appreciate sturdy shoes (in my closet at home); and racerback bras (at least six of them in my work-out drawer); and Band-Aids (back in the hotel, very near a bottle of wine). You have time to contemplate the things you lack, and those you long for when you are carefully planting your feet, one after the other, on a rocky endless path.
But eventually we came to an elbow in the trail, a landing wide enough to allow a rest and quick survey of our surroundings. Ohh. Look at this. How had I missed it? Below me I saw the sapphire sea churning up a latte froth. And behind me, I could just make out the pastel dots of the cliffside houses of Corniglia. We had lunch there not long ago and now it looked miles away. (Thank God, it actually was.)
In the switchback, we passed shoulder-to-shoulder with some German hikers, properly equipped with walking sticks, wool socks and sensible shoes. (And this is why they had to be German.) “How far to Vernazza?” we asked. They replied, “About an hour.” They might well have said, “About an eternity.” It seemed the same to me. And also to our fellow hiker—a loudish man from L.A. we seemed destined to dislike, who, in fact, became our favorite hiking companion. My husband, our two kids and I can recite in his response in unison: “Oh, Sh#@!!!”
A continent and two and a half millennia away, the first wave of Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem to re-build Solomon’s temple, the once glorious house of worship razed by the Babylonians 70 years before. Under the direction of Zerubbabel, the pilgrims began laying the stones of the foundation. After two years of slow and tedious work, the foundation was complete and a celebration begun. Ezra records that at the celebration, some Jewish priests, elders and others in the crowd began to weep, so much so that the sound muffled the joy-filed praise. Their memory of what had been and their vision for what could be was not in any way evident in the construction of foundation. Such an insignificant achievement. You call this progress?
But Zechariah responded with the Lord’s admonishment—and encouragement. By my strength and by my power, the Lord said, you will complete the work. And as for small beginnings, “Who despises the day of small things? For they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet (plumb line) in the hand of Zerubbabel.”
Do you despise the days of small things? Do you walk with your head hanging low just trying to keep your feet on an uneven path? I know it too well. How far off is the finish line? Maybe I should stop now and take a nap instead.
How many days in the early going of my marriage and career, my mothering and mentoring, did I look at the collection of irregular stones around me wondering, is this progress? Could this sorry array of stones be the foundation for a place God would indwell?
Yes. Yes. And forever, yes.
The small things are the real things. The stones the builder delights to use. Precious few go from tinker to millionaire inventor, or blogger to bestseller, or weeknight cook to iron chef. Most of us just slog away, one step at a time, one stone at a time, one small act of obedience followed by another. And it all amounts to….what exactly?
It amounts to glory.
The small things of our ordinary days, in every season of life, can create in us and provide for us the reasons to delight, rejoice and celebrate. Because the secret is—there are no small things.