Why 'little things' really can make a difference
As a proud welsh woman, each and every year on St David’s day I remind my children of their welsh heritage. Every year I tell them my favourite story about St David, and every year they are unimpressed, reminding me that St George killed a dragon. Sigh. But it really is my favourite story and its also a very wise lesson.
St David was a man who travelled a lot, setting up religious centres wherever he went. A number of miracles are supposed to have been attributed to him, the most notable of which is reported to be that whilst he was preaching once, a hill rose up underneath him so people could hear him better (not something that impresses my kids much that one!). What I love about him most though are his last words, in his final sermon before he died. his parting advice was to “keep your faith and belief, and do the little things that you have heard and seen through me.”
Now, I know it isn’t slaying a dragon, but I think that is great advice. Too often, especially in the field of mental/emotional health, we think that what we need to do in order to help someone is the big stuff. We feel like we need to be the amazing therapist, the dynamic preacher, the perfect always available friend. When we’re thinking about what to say we’re looking for the ideal statement, something inspired that will unlock them from their situation or totally transform them. We especially feel that pressure as Christians. We feel like we 'should' be able to deliver some kind of revelation or scriptural truth that is the miraculous key to everything. Like that moment in Good Will Hunting, or in all those Christian paperbacks we've read, we feel like in order to help we need to be the missing link for them and come up with that clever word or thought which triggers the dramatic moment they weep - and from that moment turn things around.
The trouble is that recovering from mental and emotional health problems doesn’t work like that. You don’t just ‘get better’, and there is very rarely a ‘moment’ when it all clicks into place and everything changes. Recovery is a journey, full of ups and downs and movements sideways, and those moments where you lose your way and wonder for a moment if you are actually going to end up further away than when you started. And whilst most people do need a great therapist or doctor to support them and help them along the way, they need those people to be very safe places they can unpack their situation with and risk being that vulnerable with. Its not something you can often do with someone you might run into in Sainsburys, or who you see each week in toddler group or at church. We can sometimes set up relationships in church situations which do their best to give that clear contained boundary (for more about this check out what I wrote about boundaries in pastoral care) but most of the support we get there is going to be in a different category all together. We mustn't get so hung up on the 'big things' that we end up doing nothing. Becuase the 'little things' really matter.
You see all this doesn't mean that your friends can’t help you when you are trying to find your way out of an emotional heath storm. It means that the kind of help they offer is different to what you get from a profesional. Different in a massive wonderful way because the relationship you have with them is based on something totally different - friendship - but also different because it often comes down to much smaller things. Not hour long weekly counselling session but little things. Just the kind of things St David reminds us about.
Think about it - don’t little things often make a massive difference to your day? Like my day the other week when someone gave me flowers - a friend of mine, for no particular reason except to say that she really valued our friendship. Or the moment a bit back when my toddler was screaming and hurled a toy across the supermarket we were in, and a woman picked it up and came over to me, then instead of the usual ‘oo la la’ (yes they really do say that, apparently french children don’t have tantrums! They don’t even have a word for it!!) she said, ‘you’re doing a great job, it gets easier.’ Or my lovely colleague who knows how busy I am and took my stuff to the post for me. Or the day my daughter, witnessing another of her brother’s tantrums (aren’t two year olds great?!) quietly took herself off outside and brought in all the washing, neatly folded. Or the friend who took me out several times for coffee when my son was very small, even on the days when I was so tired I could hardly string together a sentence.
These 'little things' can be like flashes of light in an otherwise dark moment. They can have the power to lift your mood, to restore your faith in the world, get you through the week and perhaps make the day bearable. They can be little miracles - and we all need plety of those on the road to recovery, when we've hit stormy times or just on a Really Bad Day.
Today is world mental health day, and the organisation ‘Time to change’ is launching a campaign encouraging people to think about the little things that they can do for people dealing with emotional and mental health problems - the little things that make a difference. Check out their website for more - http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/WMHD
Did you know that as someone in a church you may well be in an ideal position to do some of those ‘little things”? Most likely you know someone who is having a tough time right now - one of those moments in life when it seems to throw everything at you all at once. Maybe someone going through an emotionally difficult time - a bereavement say. Or someone who you know is working through a mental health problem, or just finding life incredibly tough at the moment. Is there a ‘little thing’ you could do for them that might just help them get through today, or tomorrow, or the next day?
Proverbs 12:25 says ‘Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.’ Who could you cheer up this week?
Perhaps you have experienced ‘little things’ that have lifted your day. What were they? What really makes a difference to how you are feeling? Share your thoughts about the ‘little things’ in comments, by tweeting with #littlethings to @mindandsouluk or on our facebook page.
Kate Middleton, 10/10/2014