Small is Powerful: Sustainable Passion

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” ―Frederick Buechner

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sustainability. When I meet people who are doing loving things in their neighborhoods, I ask them “What does it mean to do this work in a sustainable fashion — without burnout?” When I gather with movers and shakers, I ask, “what are you doing to create a sustainable pace of passionate work for a lifetime?”

No one ever has an answer.

Maybe this is just the gap between people with illnesses and people with in-tact health. Maybe it’s just a personality difference. Regardless:

I want to live in the place where my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet – and I want to do it for the long run.

After parenting, the hardest job I ever had was pastoring. The pay was minimal. The hours were long. There were basically no boundaries. I loved the work, so I threw myself into it, body and soul. I thought my “deep gladness” would carry me through.

Then my body collapsed.

That was 6 years ago. My health will probably never fully recover. But the last year or two I’ve been strong enough to start again. And out of necessity, I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to live a sustainable passion. Here are Three Major Habits for Sustainable Small-and-Powerful Living. Perhaps you recognize some of these things too:

Habit One: Rites and Rituals.
These small practices create a pattern of sustenance in your life. Morning meditations. Dinner with your children. The daily run. A half an hour before bed with a good book.  (My personal favorite is an episode or two of TED whilst soaking in the bathtub.)

Your little rituals aren’t indulgences, they are the selfcare you need to engage in worldcare.

(Click to Tweet the Good Word.)

Habit Two: Right Fit Patterns
Are you a morning bird or a night owl? Do you work best in one long sustained writing weekend, or from noon to 4 everyday? Are you more productive with a single project, or do you need the energy of juggling multiple things at a time to keep you going? Do you like to help intensely in an emergency, or are you better at giving a slow-drip of support over a longer period of time?

So what if your favorite author always wrote for 3 hours starting at 5am? If someone you admire has their fingers in five different pies, should that influence how you work? Who cares if your best writing happens in your insomniac hours under the caring light of the moon? What if you don’t like living in an intense “life-commitment” intentional community?

(Right-fit, my friends, right-fit will carry you through.)

Know Thyself. You can only work within your body’s own system. Trust it.

Habit Three: Champion the Small.
Lately, when I am at conferences and people are turning the spotlight on all the big and impressive work that’s going on out there, I feel my posture shift. I stand up straighter. I plant my feet more firmly. My thinking becomes really clear. Why?

Because I am a becoming a champion of the small.

Let me give you an example. Recently I was in a workshop where the speaker was talking about the eight bazillion things his church was doing in their neighborhood. It was impressive, it really was. But his approach was especially driven and his core value was one of self-sacrifice. I could feel the hopeful learners around me start to shrivel in their seats.

There was no Q&A in that workshop, but when it came time to share ideas about what sustainable service-work might look like in the next workshop, I raised my hand. “I think, to be sustainable, it might have to look small. I think that for many people, extending love into the world might not look like being present to my whole city, or even to my whole neighbor hood, but maybe just to my block. Maybe just to half a block. Because honoring personhood and extending care takes time.

An interesting thing happened. The women nodded their heads. The men quickly moved on to making Big Plans.

It’s okay to be big if that is your call. But if your life is simple, if you like a singular focus, if you are willing to let small, consistent efforts shift the current – well, then I suspect you will be changing lives not just for now, but for the long run. Plant your feet very firmly on that reality. Stand in your own power — the power of small.

My blessing for you today is this:

May you find the place where the world’s great hunger and your deep gladness meet; and may you dance in that glory for a lifetime.

Much Warmth,

*your magpie girl


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Woz May 9, 2012 at 5:01 pm

i really do love this series. it’s truly hitting my core and making me evaluate where i’m going big because i “should.” i think that i, too, am becoming a champion of the small.

Rachelle May 9, 2012 at 5:30 pm

it’s like we are making a tiny (peaceful) army-for-good. :-)

Lana Phillips May 9, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Lots of “small” can come together and do something that can change the world.

How did it take me so long to dig deeper into your work, Rachelle? So much lost time!

Rachelle May 17, 2012 at 10:53 am

Thanks Lana. So nice to have you with us in the Flock!

eric May 9, 2012 at 10:42 pm

I appreciate your thoughtful writing and insight. My overzealous desires and passions were unsustainable. Thanks for reminding me that I’m actively pursuing a meaningful, sustainable life full of love.

Rachelle May 17, 2012 at 10:54 am

I know that you are already enacting positive change in the world. Sustainability for the Win! :-)

Vina May 16, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Love this two things:

Know Thyself. You can only work within your body’s own system. Trust it.

May you find the place where the world’s great hunger and your deep gladness meet; and may you dance in that glory for a lifetime.

A big juicy delicious YES!

Rachelle May 17, 2012 at 10:55 am

Thanks Vina. How’s Nia going? Did your first class get rescheduled? Excited for you!

Lucas December 4, 2012 at 3:02 pm

So very true and thanks for reimidnng me! The devil is in comparison How could I compare myself to another person and experience lack’, insecurity’ or jealousy’ unless it comes from a deep fear? Fear that I am not good enough, that I will fail or that someone else is better than me’.If I acknowledge myself as a unique individual with individual talents, gifts and challenges then comparison becomes meaningless If I notice thoughts of comparison then can I remind myself to be the best me’ than I can be?I’d like to give it a go! How about you?Keep up the great work!Dunstan

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