As a writer, I’m tempted to measure my success by the amount of views my articles get or the number of publications I’ve sold. There’s something in me that wants to be known and celebrated. I want the projects I pour my heart into to be appreciated by the masses. I want people to recognize my name. I want “bestselling author” attached to my biography because it means I’ve succeeded at my life’s goal!
Or does it?
There are a lot of “I wants” on that list, a phrase common to 21st-century North American culture (see Arcade Fire’s Everything Now). Yet “I want” wasn’t a sentiment Jesus endorsed. In fact, Jesus did a lot of small, selfless things for seemingly insignificant people—washing feet, visiting lepers, having dinner with tax collectors, and speaking with prostitutes, to name a few. His one-on-one interactions had a different power than the sermons he delivered to thousands of people. Through small acts of kindness, Jesus demonstrated his concern for the individual. And if Jesus cared about the woman caught in adultery who was about to be stoned, that means he cares about me in all my imperfection as well.
The Disney web series Star Wars Forces of Destiny focuses on small actions that carry surprising significance. At about three minutes long, each episode features a previously unknown moment in the life of a familiar, female Star Wars character. In “Sands of Jakku,” Rey (from The Force Awakens) saves BB-8 from a ravenous creature, while in “The Padawan Path,” Ahsoka (The Clone Wars) interrupts her busy schedule to protect an innocent family. The tagline of the series is, “The choices we make, the actions we take, moments both big and small, shape us into forces of destiny.”
As a die-hard Star Wars fan, I have quibbles with how some of the dialogue, actions, and events in Forces of Destiny feel out of character for the franchise, but I love the idea of small actions mattering. These shorts remind us that the women heroines in the Star Wars saga aren’t fighting the Empire on behalf of a faceless universe; rather; they’re fighting for the individual lives that comprise it.
Small acts of kindness, respect, and love have weight.
This is particularly true of the episode entitled “Ewok Escape.” “Can you believe it?” says a disgruntled Stormtrooper bullying a pair of Ewoks. “These things are everywhere. Primitives. I’m surprised the Empire didn’t deal with them when we arrived.” The Stormtroopers and their racist (alienist?) attitudes get their comeuppance when Princess Leia pauses from her bigger, seemingly more important, mission to come to the Ewoks’ defense. Later, they thank her with a humble gesture: a gift of a dress and a spear. Small acts of kindness, respect, and love have weight.
“The size of the task is irrelevant,” writes pastor and author Rick Warren. “The only issue is, does it need to be done?”
Warren goes on to say that it wasn’t despite Jesus’ greatness that he performed small acts of kindness, but because of it. “Small tasks often show a big heart. Your servant’s heart is revealed in little acts that others don’t think of doing,” Warren writes.
The Bible is full of stories that demonstrate how God delights in small people, small events, and small numbers: the poor widow who gave away her two coins; the shepherd who chases after one lost lamb; even the disciples, whose tasks often included doing little things for their master, such as acquiring a donkey. Each of these acts resonates with meaning beyond their immediate impact.
While we might want credit for the big things, like winning an election, writing a best-selling novel, or blowing up a Death Star, small acts matter too. In fact, they probably matter more to the partner you spent a moment with despite your busy day, the stranger you ran after on the street to return their wallet, or the barista you smiled at when you paid for your coffee. These acts might not shape us into forces of destiny, but they will form us into children of God learning to model Christ’s selfless love.