Posted by: Philip Rushton | January 7, 2014

A Fruitfulness That Escapes All Measurement

The beginning of January is often a time of reflection for me. On New Years Day I spent some time looking back over the past year and reflecting on my hopes for the coming year. I have a tendency to want to quantify what I am doing with my life. As I look back I often focus on the tangible things I have accomplished. As I look forward I often write out measurable goals for myself. I will start volunteering x amount of hours at a local homeless shelter, I will have our kitchen renovation done by a certain date, or I will run one 10k race by years end. My ego seems to need quantifiable proof that I am doing something significant.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this kind of thinking. As the old adage goes, “if you aim at nothing you will hit it ever time.” Tangible and measurable goals can be very helpful for our personal growth. Writing things down and making a plan can help us be productive and accountable.

However, many of the important things we do in life are not quantifiable. This is particularly true in our spiritual journey. Sometimes the biggest impact we can make in our world is not found in big projects but in small acts of love. A kind word, a helping hand, a visit to someone who is sick, or a willingness to suffer patiently with another – these are the type of things that Christian spirituality is all about. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul says that we can make eloquent speeches, give everything we have to the poor, or have profound wisdom, but if we do not have love we are nothing. At the end of the day, what really matters it that we respond to our world with small acts of sacrificial love.

Pope Francis articulates this well in his recent encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel. He writes:

Fruitfulness is often invisible, elusive and unquantifiable. We can know quite well that our lives will be fruitful, without claiming to know how, or where, or when. We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others. No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force. Sometimes it seems that our work is fruitless, but mission is not like a business transaction or investment, or even a humanitarian activity. It is not a show where we count how many people come as a result of our publicity; it is something much deeper, which escapes all measurement.

After being in ministry for a few years now I have started to see the significance in the smaller things. Fruitfulness cannot be reduced to finance reports, attendance records, and the number of new ministries we undertake. I have started to put more weight on the deep conversations I have had with people, the meaningful stories I hear from our caregivers who visit our homebound folks, the words of encouragement people have given me when I have felt down, the small acts of service I see people doing around the church that go unnoticed. These small acts of love are surely a vital force that encircles our world.

Perhaps as we approach a new year we should consider this fruitfulness which escapes measurement. It is important to make sure that our ambition does not prevent us from attending to the needs of the people we cross paths with every day. As Mother Theresa once said, “don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love.”

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