Into the Littleness

“Dear sister or brother, if, as in Bethlehem, the darkness of night overwhelms you, if you feel surrounded by cold indifference, if the hurt you carry inside cries out, “You are of little account; you are worthless; you will never be loved the way you want”, tonight, if this is what you are feeling, God answers back. He tells you: “I love you just as you are. Your littleness does not frighten me, your failings do not trouble me. I became little for your sake. To be your God, I became your brother. Dear brother, dear sister, don’t be afraid of me. Find in me your measure of greatness. I am close to you, and one thing only do I ask: trust me and open your heart to me.'”

– Pope Francis, Midnight Mass Homily 2021

As I look back on 2021 (is it really almost over???), and prepare for 2022 (I feel like I am still processing 2020… ), I am struck by all the big things that happened this past year: the move to a new house while starting a new job, a new vaccine (and a new variant… sigh), and a big return to normality (with some storm clouds on the horizon) seem to have focused and exhausted most of my energy. But when I find myself dwelling on the “big things” that have passed and the big things to come, I find I am a little more anxious, a little more uncertain, and a little more worried.

In those moments, it’s helpful for me to remember the little things that bring me back to myself, to God, and to the light shining through all things: The way the birds chat before they feed at the feeder, the way the morning light shines through the blinds atop the boys’ bunkbed, the little steps of my one year old, and his first babbly words: “mama-mama” then “dada-dada” and now we have “up” and “mo” and “cracker” and even the dreaded “nononono.”

Little things are often overlooked. You can’t often put them on your resume or turn them into a tidy profit. But we overlook them at our own risk, as often they are the most essential things for our spiritual, psychological, and emotional health.

I predict 2022 will be filled with lots of big things, most of them out of our control. We can choose to become caught up in the new narratives, the ever changing bullseyes of public opinion, the fickle invitations of drama that emerge from our personal and professional lives. Or, we can choose to be little, and to let the little things of God teach us how to be little: how to make room for others, how to be hospitable with our attention and with ourselves, how to set boundaries to preserve our peace, how to stay small and centered and hopeful in the midst of frantic activity.

In the words of contemplative teacher Jim Finley: “That which is essential never imposes itself for love is always offered, it’s never imposed, and that which in unessential is constantly imposing itself.”

How can we choose to attend to that which is truly essential this year, that which never imposes itself? How can we remain centered in the love of God and the peace that surpasses all understanding? How can we guard our hearts from those unessential things that are always imposing themselves and that leave us worn out and exhausted?

These questions are my resolutions for 2022, ones I will carry with me in my heart this new year, to ponder, to wonder, and, hopefully, to live.

I am, utterly and completely, grateful for being able to write more in 2021, and grateful to all those who read my writing. I’m hopeful that 2022 will be a time where I can bring more words into being, and discover new ways to connect with writers and readers. Thank you all, as always, for your words of support and affirmation. They are truly treasured.

I wish you a Happy New Year, many blessings, and lots of “little” things in the year ahead.

2021 Posts

Fast or Feast

Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation. Even so, chances are that at your parish and mine, Mass will be jam-packed. Maybe there’s something about “You are dust and to dust you shall return” that speaks to people in a way that a Mass in Ordinary Time does not. And yet last Ash…

Chronicle of a Christmas Foretold

In a split second our Sunday plans changed. We were bedecked in our Christmas best, my wife and I and all three eager boys, on our way to a Bambinelli Sunday Mass. There, the priest would bless all the Bambinellis, the little Baby Jesus figurines for the family nativity sets, and afterwards a busy and…

New Book: Becoming the Good News

Greetings friends! I’m excited to share that my new book Becoming the Good News: A New Approach to Parish Evangelization is available for pre-order and will be released this spring. Special thanks to all the friends, colleagues, and family who were the inspiration for writing, and to the many who read and offered feedback and…

The Marginal King

Reflection for Give Us This Day, on the readings for the Feast of Christ the King: Jesus might have been a more palatable earthly king if he bothered to act like one. Kings and queens, after all, need to make some compromises here and there. King David, for example, reconciles with the elders of Israel…

Onto Something

“To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.” – Walker Percy, “The Moviegoer” In 2016 I awoke from under heavy anesthesia, and the phrase “Incarnation is Everywhere” came to me. I had just donated bone marrow, via a surgical…

The Call You Don’t See Coming

From the September 2022 issue of Give Us This Day: Have you ever sensed a calling even before you were ready to hear it? Maybe a career you once loved suddenly becomes shallow and repetitive, or your heart is seized with a surprising desire for fulfillment beyond paying the bills. Perhaps the reality of our…

It is good to hope in silence

In today’s morning prayer from Give Us This Day, the scripture verse from Lamentations counseled: “It is good to hope in silence/ for the Lord’s deliverance.” It struck me, while praying with it, how often we hope quite loudly. And our hope might even sound a little, well, whiny. It might even become a litany…

Through All Generations

Reflection on the daily readings for Give Us This Day, June 21st, 2022, Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga: When I first started teaching high school theology, I was a mess. Arriving fresh from graduate school, on fire with a love for the Gospel and for social justice, I struggled to communicate what was in my…

Evil is not inevitable

It wasn’t a particularly inspiring line from yesterday’s Gospel that stuck with me during my prayer: “The ruler of this world has been condemned.” And yet there it was, nearly jumping of the page. I thought, perhaps, it connected with some of the research I was doing on the New Testament understanding of salvation. Certainly,…

Sundowning and Sacred Memory

Today would have been my grandpa William’s 105th birthday. He only died six years ago so he lived a good long life. But, a good long life, when it ends, leaves a large void, no matter how ready they were to depart, or how long they walked beside us. After my grandpa died, I took…

Washing His Feet

He limped in off the street, leaning on a wheelchair that had “2nd Floor Pain Clinic” written on the seat. On the back, it just said “PAIN” in large letters. We had just endured twelve days of subzero temperatures in Kansas City, with lows in the negative teens. At Morning Glory Ministries, a social outreach…

When the Good News Seems Grim

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.Luke 9:23 This is a frightening prospect. To be entirely dispossessed of everything that is not Christ, leaning more and more on him, entering every more deeply into the suffering of others: the sick, the migrant,…

Is hope possible?

I went to bed with a heavy heart last night. War, violence, and terror, once again. I remember watching the towers fall on live TV, my senior year of high school. I remember my college experience shaded by the war on terror, the destruction of Iraq and the long quagmire in Afghanistan. When I graduated,…

A Jesus Prayer

Jesus My life, my love, and my hope I am beset by many anxieties as I walk the well trod path behind you. Jesus You asked me to follow youa long time agoand I havethrough times of bitter painand searing fearto delightful oases of rest,and peace,and joyful service. Jesus Help me not to lose hopeor…

A Listening Church and the New Evangelization

My article on being a Listening Church and the New Evangelization has been published by the National Catholic Reporter today. You can read it here: Additionally, I’ve written a short book on the Synod on Synodality called “Your Church Needs to Hear from You: What is the Synod on Synodality?” that will be published…

Covid, Peace, and Panic

I finally caught the old Covid. Well, I guess technically it’s the new Covid, the Omicron kind that doesn’t go into the lungs, thankfully. But it wasn’t fun in the head and sinuses either. At first I had to isolate for a few days from my family and from the outside world. That was, well,…

In the Sight of Such Love

“You are my beloved . . . with you I am well pleased.” I find, even among people of faith, a certain reticence to being told they are God’s beloved. We often sidestep the issue: “Well, God only loves Jesus like that, not me.” Even now, as you’re reading this, you might be squirming a…

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Lettie S says:

    I look forward to reading more of your columns in 2022 and have benefited from your insightful, encouraging, honest words. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sally Sanem says:

    Love it Michael! The Littleness…ah the littleness. Lest we forget. Great message!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Sanem says:

    Beautiful pictures and comments Michael–pops

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mary Wittenhagen says:

    Reading your personal reflections for the first time today in “ give us this day” I feel blessed and in a better place. Thank you for making your writings available. I feel at peace now with your thoughts to reflect on today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Mary, thank you so much for your kind words. They are deeply appreciated. I’m grateful to know you feel blessed and at peace. Take care!


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