One day this fall, a student asked me for a spare paper bag so he could pick some crab apples from the tree outside my campus office building. I was puzzled by his request because I never knew crab apples were good for anything (besides dropping on the sidewalk and smushing up under my shoes!) The student surprised me by telling me he was going to use them to make jam.
He explained that the crab apple is just a smaller apple. No one thinks to eat them because we like things that are big and pretty. What a wonderful new insight! I thought the tree outside my building was just ornamental, only meant to be enjoyed for the pretty pink blossoms in the spring. I have since learned that crab apples can be eaten and have the exact same nutritional value as regular apples, just in a smaller package.
How can this old adage, “good things come in small packages” apply to our faith lives? What immediately comes to mind is the parable of the mustard seed:
“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)
A podcast on Contemplative At Home calls this “a tiny parable about a tiny thing.” Jesus wants us to see that small beginnings can lead to powerful results. Things that start small can grow and spread. We often discount these tiny movements in our hearts, because we live in a world that celebrates everything that is big and bold and extravagant. It’s easy to feel that the way we express our faith is “not enough.” This parable reveals that the seed holds so much hope and possibility. Even the smallest amount of faith can be enough to set you off on your journey towards God. A journey that will blossom and grow, with branches that intertwine with those you encounter along the way.
Equally important as our small bits of faith are our small actions. My encounter with this student picking crab apples also reminded me of the famous quote by Mother Theresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” The world is filled with huge problems and inconceivable amounts of human suffering. It’s hard to believe anything we could do would actually make a difference. Where could we even begin? Well…we begin by doing something small. It may feel insignificant, or woefully inadequate. But the love that accompanies each small act will magnify and warm the hearts of whoever may be receiving the act of kindness. And that’s how it begins to spread.