When I was a boy, my father ran a Texaco service station in the Lower Catskill Mountains of New York State. Built 35 feet off Hwy 209, our station sat on a pie-shaped lot with 240 feet of highway frontage. A vacationing town, Godeffroy’s population topped 5,000 in the summer. In the winter, the tourists disappeared and we thinned to a town of 500. The other thing that happened in the winter? It snowed. A lot. And by a lot, I mean the snow often reached the handle of the service station door.
Because my father didn’t want to pay to have the lot plowed, it became my younger brother’s and my job to help our father shovel the entire parcel by hand. A pretty overwhelming, three-day job for anyone. A particularly overwhelming job for boys only ten and twelve years old. How did my father teach us to complete our massive task while also keeping us from losing heart? Like this.
“Don’t look at the whole job,” he’d say, “Make every shovel count.” He showed us how to “cut it clean,” so that each jab and scoop of the shovel left a patch of earth completely emptied of snow. One purposeful, well executed shovelful in and of itself is a small thing, but purposeful, well-executed shoveling done over and over and over again eventually adds up to a job well done.
Small things done often. It’s a phrase I’ve grown fond of, particularly because life hands us some pretty overwhelming tasks. Like cultivating a healthy marriage – raising well-adjusted kids – and maintaining a vibrant faith in the midst of a suffering and broken world. The scope of the tasks before us can dishearten even the most dedicated spouse, the most determined parent, the most devout believer. Most of the important things in life such as character, skill sets and faithfulness are achieved by repetitively doing small tasks. How do we keep the big picture in mind without becoming completely overwhelmed by it? How do we, day after day, keep up the good work? How do we, year after year, and not lose heart? How do we teach this principle to our children? How do parents model it in family? This central thought will always be in the background as I write this blog.
A commitment to ‘small things done often.’ I think my dad was onto something.’
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. Galatians 6:9
Also read, “Make Your Bed.” Admiral William H. McRaven, former head of the Navy Seals.