Jessica Powers was a twentieth century Wisconsin poet who eventually became a Carmelite sister. During her religious life, she continued to write, penning poems with an appreciable blend of clarity and mystery, of strong spiritual themes as well as an understanding of human nature. In “The Flower of Love,” she wrote:
Blessed are they who stand upon their vow
and are insistent
that love in this bleak here, this barren now
One of the deepest secrets lived by mystic monks and silent sisters, like Jessica Powers, is about the small things we encounter in most of our moments: the teeth that need brushing, the floor that needs mopping, the email that needs writing. The monks know that life and love have much more to do with these moments than the grand, momentous ones. Are you ready for the secret of the small? It’s this: God is found in the small things.
The Secret of the Small
God calls us to small things and to find His presence there. If we love Him, we bind ourselves to the simple, the direct, the present moment. He asks us to pour our hearts into the small, into “this barren now” as Jessica Powers described. Mother Teresa famously put it this way, “We are not called to do great things, but little things with great love.”
There is a saying that the devil is in the details, but if we look closely with the eyes of faith, we can find God in the small things. Consider the reality that, in order to reveal His own identity of Love, God became man and took on the form of a tiny, vulnerable infant. He embraced littleness as an example to us who live in our own littleness, surrounded by the littleness of our daily lives. Considering this, the littleness of our obligations and the vulnerabilities in ourselves and others that we encounter each day take on a new significance.
This lesson of the little is manifested in a vivid way in the monastic life. As a monk, you live with great anonymity— nothing you own belongs to you. Your work is not usually signed. Your grave is extremely simple. You take nothing with you. A glimpse into this simplicity is compellingly displayed in the movie, Into Great Silence. The Carthusian monks portrayed in the film, so alive in the monastery, have already become so dead to the world because of their anonymity. They will live in one location for the remainder of their life, without much contact with the outside world, pursuing the contemplation that only inner and outer silence allows.
What makes this so worth it? How do men become saints in these monasteries? The secret guarded by the monks’ simplicity of living is this: The value of your life lies not in what you do but in how you do it. The heart that you put into action—your ability to find God in the small things— is more important than the simplicity or complexity of the action itself.
Bringing the Monk to Work
Living love in the business world may seem a trickier business than in the monastery. The business culture is full of self-promotion and a spirit of ownership. These aspects of business are not necessarily bad, as long as we don’t forget the primacy of love! To paraphrase St. Paul, I can do many things on my own… found a business, give generously to charities, or even give up my body as a martyr, but if I lack love, it is nothing in the eyes of God.
Do Small Things Intentionally
Meanwhile, the smallest thing, even picking up a piece of lint out of love, is a huge feat in God’s eyes! We can remember this when business tasks, like tasks in any job, include tedious details, busy work, and minute tasks. It probably won’t be hard to find an opportunity to pick up a fallen pen… can we do that out of love? In the end, it is only such love that will remain.
Additionally, we live the message of love and of the possibility of relationship with Jesus Christ by seeing in each person we encounter in our workplace a someone, never a something. We strive to create a culture of hospitality, noticing what helps each person in the workplace function best and making it a point to be as personal as possible, even if a face-to-face meeting takes a bit more time than an email.
Start with an Our Father
Another way to put love into the “barren now” of our business lives is to start each day with intentionally praying the Our Father. The Father is God, and His nature is Love. When we say, “Our Father,” we are acknowledging that we are born out of Love, and our true nature is Love. This very first line of the Our Father reminds us that we can have the joyous assurance that we are infinitely loved, and this should color the rest of our day in the business sphere!
Reflect on Love
This primacy of love is the message in 1 Corinthians 13, which is an excellent resource for reflection for the business person. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal,” says St. Paul. “… Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” He continues, “….Love never ends… when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.”
Remember: Even as we are called to be salt and yeast in the world, we cannot save the world without first saving ourselves from it. This happens by committing ourselves to the Father’s love.
Ask for It
To make our lives into a living prayer, we need to have love. But we don’t automatically have the love within ourselves to do this. It is a gift given by God. On our own, we can’t produce love, constructing or making it as we wish. This means that we need to ask the Holy Spirit for an outpouring of grace and love, to live the small things well.
Mary as Model in the Small Things
The Virgin Mary lived a life so simple that few noticed it from the outside, yet in her simplicity was an absolute and total gift to God. Mary made a choice in her heart to associate herself with God’s will. She stood at Calvary and allowed her Son to die because God wanted it, intimately bearing Christ’s suffering from inside her heart.
Exterior acts— directing films, building houses, running companies— pale in comparison. So much more important than filling our lives with things and what we do is a simple yet profound choice we face: a choice to open our hearts to God. While small from a materialistic perspective, what could be greater than Mary’s motherhood and total union with Jesus by a choice of love?
Find God in the Little Things by Letting Love Grow
The monks have sifted the sands of human experience and found what is most precious: the centrality of love. They have placed this carefully at the core of their life and build the rest of their actions upon it. As missionary evangelizers, we are called to cling to this same most precious truth: Love can be lived in any time, in any place, and most often in the small things! It is possible to find God in the small things— the monks can be our reminder of this. Let’s not forget to love.
Blessed are they who battle jest and scorn
to keep love growing
from embryo immaculately born
to blossom showing.
Primarily for them will petals part
to draw and win them.
It, when the pollen finds their opened hearts,
will bloom within them.