During the hardest days of our daughter’s fight with cancer, my wife and I needed some form of relief from the daily stress and pressure. We both found that relief in an unexpected place. We realized that doing one small thing each day for someone else helped take our eyes off of ourselves and our hardship. Suffering dissipates, even if only slightly and momentarily, when we look beyond ourselves. In this way, the “small acts” did much more for us than it did for the recipients of those efforts. This is usually the case.
Small acts have the ability to change the whole tone of a day. Small acts punctuate dull, difficult days with joy and relief from self-obsession.
How might we practice Small Acts?
- Live Kindness – Simple acts of unsolicited kindness feed our spirit in deep ways. When we are stressed, making the conscious choice to show kindness to someone we encounter rather than impatience changes the whole tenor of a day.
- Give Out – Giving helps us get outside of ourselves. Whether it is a physical gift, a financial gift, or simply lending a hand where needed, giving to someone else frees us. The size of the act is not important, the thought is.
- Open to Wonder – Taking a moment to step outside and revel in the wonder of creation helps us discover much needed perspective when stress and suffering are driving us toward tunnel vision. It helps us breathe again when the stress threatens to choke us.
- Extend Compassion – Imparting grace heals us as much as it heals the person to whom we have extended the grace. When we realize that others are suffering as we are, even if we cannot immediately see it, compassion comes more naturally.
- Take a Small Rest – We need grace also. Taking a rest when it feels like we cannot afford the time is an act of grace to ourselves. The world will go on without us. We can always catch up.
- Practice Patience – When life is tough, patience shrinks. Choose the small act of being patient with those nearest you. Fight the tendency to lash out.
- Find Joy – Have as a goal in the tough times to find joy somewhere in your day. It may be a smile from someone, a phone call, or a walk. When life is beating us up, joy is elusive unless we choose to go out and actively look for it. Find that joy each day and keep a short journal of your findings.
Our days are not experienced in large chunks of months and years, but in days, hours, and minutes. When we step back, get perspective, and then reach out in small ways to live our hours well, then the hardest struggles get slightly easier. Suffering may not go away. The causes of stress will not likely disappear. But our ability to stand through life’s difficult seasons are made more bearable as we find the joy of practicing “small acts.”