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Just dropping by ... Small and simple things

Yevet Tenney for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 April 2021

During the first part of the pandemic of 2020, I read a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear. It had such an impact on my thinking I read it twice. His books asserts that you do not change by setting goals but by the daily rituals we perform consistently.

It reminded me of a principle I learned when I took a geology class in college. Rock and the formation of the earth was fascinating, but that is not what I remember after all these years. It was a connection I made to my spiritual life that made the difference.

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One day, the professor showed a film on an old reel-to-reel projector. The film was a documentary of a scientific experiment that showed how rocks were shaped gradually and shifted in shape over time with heat and pressure. The narrator placed a piece of granite on a pedestal and hit it with a sledgehammer. As expected, the granite shattered, sending shards of rock in all directions. Then he took a piece of Silly Putty and set it on the pedestal. I expected to see the Silly Putty smash flat as he hit it with the hammer, but to my amazement it shattered just like the piece of granite. His point was: Rocks can gradually move and change shape over time, but too much pressure all at once causes them to crack and break down into smaller particles – and finally become sand.

Just as the rocks gradually move and change shape with slight pressure and shatter with sudden tremendous pressures, we humans change gradually if we focus on small incremental changes, and we crack and break emotionally if we subject ourselves to too much external pressure. I concluded that God is the author of perfection through small and simple changes, while Satan is the author of destruction through huge sweeping changes and rigid regimes.

Often, we want to make colossal changes in our lives. We want to lose 25 ugly pounds in a month. We find the diet on the internet that promises such results. We starve ourselves for the first few days, and the pounds come off, but inevitably we think, “I have lost so much weight. I will cheat just this once.” Suddenly, we are right back where we started with a few extra pounds to add to the all-telling bathroom scale. Making small, consistent changes makes more sense.

We promise ourselves we will never get sucked into addictive gaming again. We will use our time wisely. We faithfully vow, “From this day forward, I will never play another game on my phone.” It isn’t long before a game or a post pops up, and we are into it again. Hours have elapsed, and we feel guilty that we haven’t accomplished anything of value all day. It would be smarter to set a time limit rather than total abstinence forever.

We promise to stick with a budget forever, but “just-this-once” gets in the way, and here we are again at the end of the month with a credit card balance that stretches over two months. We make another vow, and the cycle begins again. It would be a better choice to set external limits on the credit card or use cash.

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We are creatures of habit. If we are not vigilant, we wake up at the same time and go through the same rituals every day. The only way we change our habits is to change our daily routine. We make lasting changes by tackling the small and simple things. During last year’s lockdown, I decided to focus on the small and simple things rather than the huge sweeping changes I wanted to make. I found that it made an enormous difference.

I have a subscription to a religious magazine I seldom read or enjoyed. Usually, it ended up on the kitchen counter with the mail and gradually was buried until another magazine arrived. I never read it, and I often thought, “What a waste of money. You buy magazines you never read.” Instead of canceling the subscription, I decided to put my magazine on an end table in front of the toilet. I decided to read one page while I was doing my business. It wasn’t long before I had read the entire magazine from cover to cover and started on a back issue. My husband said, “I have never read that magazine until you put it by the toilet.” Double blessing. Such a small and simple thing, but it paid huge dividends.

Changing the location of the magazine worked so well I decided to put a gallon of water on the bathroom vanity so every time I washed my hands, I would drink more water. The more water I drank, the more time I spent in the bathroom. Funny how that works.

For years I have wanted to play the piano, but I never found the time. I knew learning an instrument would take a vast amount of time, and I was too busy. I took a music theory class in college that taught me the notes and how to read the scale, but I never sat down to make my hands work on the keys. I had more time during the pandemic, so I decided I’d apply the small and simple technique to the piano. I have an upright piano in my laundry room. My husband was going to refinish it, but that never happened. I decided I would sit down for a few minutes every time I went into the laundry room and try to play a hymn. I have a simplified book. To my delight, from March to August, I had learned to play six or eight new songs. I found that as I learned one song, the notes transferred over to another song and made it easier to learn. I never spent long at the piano in one sitting, but the consistency made all the difference. Small and simple things work.

Another change I made during the pandemic was rearranging the location of my journal and scriptures. They are now on my nightstand instead of neatly put away on a shelf. Making them convenient made it easier to remember to spend time with the Lord rather than rushing into my day. I discovered that I now write in my journal nearly every day, and my scriptures are there for every prayer, ready to be opened and read.

Writing and editing has been a challenge. You would think that would be a natural thing for a writer to do, but not for me. I have my mother’s history in handwritten pages on my desk. It seemed daunting, but I want to get them done. I used to vow, “I’ll type 10 pages today.” I’d set a goal and then procrastinate because I didn’t have time for 10 pages. Now I do not think in terms of 10 pages. I simply say, “I am going to write something and edit something every day.” Two hundred pages are now typed in my computer, and the stack grows smaller every day.

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Small and simple mind changes work, too. For the last two years, I have suffered with a trigger finger. That is a condition where the tendon constricts and causes your finger to lock. It is painful and annoying. In March, my sister and I discussed faith and fear. We concluded that we stand at the same juncture with faith and fear. With both, we imagine the future and predict the outcome. Often, we choose fear and envision all the things that could go wrong instead of everything that could go right. We talked about how gratitude is essential to faith. We determined that we can use gratitude to make changes in our lives by thanking the Lord in advance for the blessings we desire. I decided to look at my finger with faith. Every time I felt the pain in my finger, I would say, “Heavenly Father, thank you for healing my finger.” I noticed significant changes in the first week. It was not healed, but was much better. From March until now, I have complete mobility of my finger, and the pain is gone. Small and simple thoughts of faith and gratitude work.

We can try to make changes in our lives by envisioning vast sweeping changes that require rigid goals and regimes, but doing it the Lord’s way is much easier. Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when He said, “My yoke is easy, and burden is light.” end mark

Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who writes about faith, family and freedom.

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