Repentance isn’t about the big things. If you take care of the little things, the big stuff takes care of itself. We tend to be obsessed with the big stuff. We roil with anger at AIG executives who hoard their millions after losing our billions, but fail to see the incongruity of refusing a waitress an expected and deserved tip, hoarding what’s in our wallet and leaving only a buck on the table after a $25 dinner. Somehow hoarding money by being cheap is perfectly okay but hoarding money by taking a million dollar bonus which is in your contract is evil.
In our fallen sensibilities, little doesn’t matter, especially compared with the big.
In spite of this “don’t sweat the small stuff” sensibility that we use to justify our little lives, we all know better. Jay Hopler’s poem, Meditation on Ruin, which was today’s poem on The Writer’s Almanac, illustrates what we all know to be the truth, if we would just admit it to ourselves. I’ll let you click over to the poem because I don’t have permission to reprint it in full. It’s a meditation on how little things – the broken shoelace, being overcharged at the gas pump – ultimately kill our spirits. But I love his recognition that we often deal well with the big stuff.
The death of a father – the death of the mother –
The sudden loss shocks the living flesh alive!
The big stuff animates; it mysteriously strengthens us to face whatever might befall us. It’s the small stuff that enervates. As Hopler says,
… But the broken pair of glasses
The tear in the trousers,
These begin an ache behind the eyes.
But while the small stuff enervates, we have an uncanny knack for ignoring it, until it crops up as something far worse. As Hopler observes at the end of the poem:
Oblivious. We are oblivious. Then, one morning – there’s a
crack in the water glass – we wake to find ourselves undone.
In the same manner, repentance is dealing with the little stuff. Mostly we are oblivious to its effects. We don’t set out to be a martyr or have the gift of miraculous healing, or to see the uncreated light. Mostly (at least for these forty days) we do as we ought to the extent that we are given grace. Mostly we are oblivious to the effects of repentance. Then, one morning we wake to find ourselves redone, transformed, sanctified.