Little and Often

Watching my two and a half year old clean up can be a painful experience. Pick up two board books, try to untangle a third from a blanket, drop one, pick it up, free the blanket one and bend to pick it up, drop the other two, pick these two up, step forward to get the third, stumble over the blanket, drop one, bend, pick up ALL three, take two steps, drop one. On and on. As an infinitely more capable adult (or big sibling) watching this process can be torture. The desire to step in and make it smooth, efficient, painless can be almost impossible to resist. But the most shocking part of the whole process is that, ultimately, it works. The books end up on the shelf, and my little girl is slightly puffed up with pleasure at a job well done. 

Why does it work? Certainly not through efficiency, speed or accuracy. It works through continual, small (sometimes futile) efforts. 

“Little and often.” I first heard this quote from my mom, which she heard from another artist about making time for creative efforts, but I’ve been thinking about how it applies to any effort—particularly spiritual effort. 

Turn to the Lord: think of Him, take a deep breath, trust Him for this moment, utter a tiny prayer. Just do it, it doesn’t have to be big and certainly not perfect. But do it often.

For years I have been trying to make gratitude a bigger part of my life. For the last year and a half that has taken the form of writing a daily gratitude for my husband. It is sometimes very brief, sometimes left undone for a few days so I have to play catch up. It sometimes feels manufactured and pointless, and I have to force myself to do it. Yet because I do it, taken all together my book of gratitudes is not so little. 

Little and often. Does this resonate with you? It certainly helps me to remember (for the eightieth time) that growth doesn’t have to (isn’t supposed to) be fast or big, it just needs to be worked at consistently. What are the little and often spiritual practices that work for you? 

I like the thought of embracing my inner two year old who is at once so maddeningly inefficient, and so impressively persistent. And if she can get the job done, maybe I can too. It’s of course not the sweeping change I want, but it is powerful. Because after all, the Lord Himself told us that this is how He will change us: “Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land.” (Exodus 23:30

About Tania Alden

Tania is a wife, mother and watercolour painter (when she has the time and brain space). She currently lives in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania but holds a special place in her heart for Westville, South Africa where she grew up. She and husband Micah are delighted and exhausted parents to three young children. As the daughter of a minister, married to the son of a minister, New Church ideas have always formed a central and important part of Tania’s family life, but now as a mother, finding ways to communicate and teach these values to young children has given them a new meaning and power. And it is exciting, and daunting, to know that the journey of spiritual understanding is just barely beginning!

7 thoughts on “Little and Often

  1. Oh, Tania – this absolutely DOES resonate with me! In these later years without youngsters to fill most of my time, it takes the form of a few quiet moments in the morning to dip into the Arcana. By “little and little” I am finally working my way through it for the first time. And because of the persistent effort to make time for it, I have come to relish that time. And what gems there are to be discovered in those pages!

    1. Ah I love that. Something I look forward to tackling one day. I am daunted and excited by the prospect. This is a good reminder. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Yes! I really like this approach and this reminder. And I love the images of Simone helping out and the pleasure it brings her. I guess the Lord let’s us flop around and slowly slowly change so it can be our own project. ❤️

    1. And that we are to Him as a toddler is to us (but moreso)… a very humbling reminder.

  3. Your thoughts reminded me of a poem that is also a hymn. See below. Just as the little things gradually build to big good things, so the little things that aren’t so good can gradually build to worse things. Either way, the little daily things that become our habits are powerful, like your gratitude journal. Thanks for sharing.

    Little Things Poem

    by Julia Carney, 1845

    Little drops of water
    Little grains of sand,
    Make the mighty ocean,
    And the pleasant land.

    So the little moments,
    Humble though they be,
    Make the mighty ages
    Of eternity.

    So our little errors
    Lead the soul away
    From the path of virtue,
    Far in sin to stray.

    Little deeds of kindness,
    Little words of love,
    Make our earth happy,
    Like the Heaven above.

  4. “Little and often.” Can be used for so much of spiritual endeavor, as well as physical!

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