small is plenty

kathyescobar church stuff, incarnational, the carnival in my head, the refuge 9 Comments

i’ve been off line for the past few weeks getting my kids off to a new school year & taking a break from thinking about the blog.  it’s nice to have 8am-3pm back every day after 3 long wacky months getting my oldest out to college & enjoying summer with my other 4.  i hope you’ve had a good summer, too! i love fall & am really looking forward to the upcoming season.

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“get ready, God is preparing you for something really, really small” – shane claiborne

i have always tended to do everything big in my life.  i never really set out to have 5 kids, but i am the one who had 12 bridesmaids and over 400 people at our wedding & keeps the post office in business with how many christmas cards we send every year.  it’s just…me (and that my #1 strength on the strengthsfinder is “includer”, ha ha).

but i’m learning something really precious and beautiful in my life right now–just how powerful “small” really is. most of you know that i earned my chops in big-church world, really stepping into leadership about 9 years ago and then ramping it up a few years later and being on the pastoral staff at a mega-church.  the contrast between where i was and where i am now is actually quite comical and once in a while at some our refuge gatherings i find myself chuckling at the differences between the two.  i went from as professional & amazing & full-of-wow-and-tons-of-people as you can get to simple-pared-down-unplugged-and-small.  it really is apples & oranges. and while i’m not in any way saying that “big is bad” i think i’m more convinced than ever that  “small is plenty.”

 here’s why:

  • transformational, redemptive relationships require a whole lot of time and energy. learning Jesus’ ways of love is complicated.  so many people–no matter how put together on the outside they may look–struggle with feeling loved by God & people & passing on love to God and people.  shifting those deep places in hearts is not something that comes in a snap. it takes a long time to build trust, intimacy & connection.  it takes intention and fighting against the path of least resistance which will always tend toward “i’m too busy” or “i really don’t need people in my life, i’ve got it covered on my own.”    after 4 wild years of life in the refuge community, i see up-close-and-personal just how much time and energy it takes to nurture transformation.   the tangled web of life together is impossible to navigate in a sea of hundreds of nameless faces.
  • real life is unpredictable and hard; the needs are great. $*!&!( happens.  marriages begin to crumble, jobs get lost, people get sick, family members die, relationships break up, kids get in trouble, people get inspired to adopt children from foster care & overseas, depression kicks in, the pain gets great enough to enter recovery.  real life is unpredictable and if i look around most of the relationships i am in–both in and outside of the refuge community–there’s a lot of real life going on that is complicated and messy.   sure, it’s easy to just stand by and watch when there’s no real connection between people, but in a small community dedicated to life together, in different ways we all share in the pain and struggle together. and while it is a beautiful gift, it also reminds me of how impossible it is to really do that level of sharing burdens on a big, wide scale.   when it comes to the needs of real life, small is plenty.
  • everyone needs a space to use their gifts & passions & voice. this of course is something i’m most passionate about because i believe that the body of Christ is supposed to be a place where each and every person who is a part is contributing in some way, shape or form–bringing their gifts & passions & voice to the community.  in big settings, there’s only so much “room” so the talented & louder voices are the ones who usually get heard.  in our practicing community, we go out of our way to hear from as many different people as possible in as many different ways as possible.  and even then, it’s still hard to really create the space and cultivate the possibilities for everyone.
  • growth doesn’t mean numbers. this has been the best lesson i keep trying to remember.  almost all church-planting and success-in-life models are focused on numerics & dollars–butts in seats & bucks in the offering plate or some combination of that.  i have come to peace with something different in a new way this past year.  the growth that i see really has nothing to do with the-number-of-people-who-come -to-our-gatherings but rather seeing people become more loving, caring, compassionate, generous, and kind in little & big ways.  of seeing people find hope when there wasn’t any.  of seeing people really “become more like Christ” even if none of those words were ever used.  as i’ve said over and over again here at the carnival, there’s a big difference between building churches & cultivating communities.
  • every system struggles to be healthy. families, groups, churches, organizations all have a tendency toward unhealthiness because there are people in them! keeping any system on a healthy path is no small task.  i think there’s a misconception that small can mean insulated or in-grown.  it doesn’t have to.   smaller communities need to really consider how to integrate and enfold new people & continue to reach out & be open to change & transformation & connection with the wider body.  this takes work, but i have seen how beautiful it can be, too–when new friends are welcomed & integrated & loved in tangible practical ways or supportive friendships with other communities are formed.
  • never underestimate how much impact “small” can really have.  i feel so blessed to see this in some little ministries, missional communities, and individuals-who-are-dedicated-to-the-poor-and-marginalized-in-all-kinds-of-crazy-innovative-ways.  small pockets of love matter.  justice & mercy & hope ripple out from small acts of kindness & love.  one life can change one other life.  and that one life matters. voca femina, the creative arts site for women we started over a year and a half ago, is small potatoes in all kinds of ways; yet, for each woman who contributes, each person that reads, beauty & hope is being inspired.   if we are always thinking we’re not big enough, strong enough, cool enough, sustainable enough, or all kinds of other barriers-to-freedom-and-peace, we will miss out on amazing people & opportunities to love & live right in front of us.

i was in a conversation with a dear sister-on-the-journey a while back & she said, “kathy, i just want a small deep rich life.  that’s enough for me. i don’t want to travel the world, change the course of history. i just want to live my little life well.” those words have lingered.  that’s what i want, too.  sure, i have visions of grandeur here and there, but that mainly comes from getting sucked into what other people are doing instead of keeping my eyes focused on the loveliness right in front of me that is made to be enjoyed, valued, treasured, nurtured, cultivated, honored.

i think learning how to embrace small as plenty means being comfortable in our own skin, accepting ourselves how we truly are individually & corporately, and bending our ear and heart toward the ways of the kingdom of Godwhere the ways of the world are turned upside down, the last shall be first and the first shall be last, where learning the ways of love one relationship at a time  supersedes everything else.

yeah, more than ever, i am discovering that small is plenty.

what do you think?