As we race towards the end of the year and the beginning of a new one, it is my practice to reflect on where I’ve come from and look to where I’m going. I pick a focus word or 2 and make a plan to move forward (in pencil). There have been times when what is in front of me is intimidating in its scope, like staring at a smooth, slick wall stretching up into the clouds. Where do I even start?
If you’ve ever watched the show Hoarders, as the houses fall into such a state of disrepair, the people fall into a state of apathy. The work is so vast, it’s hard to see any way out. They have no idea how to clean what used to be their home but is now just a storage space for dirty dishes, trash, and junk. There is no end in sight, no light at the end of a massive tunnel.
A life can feel exactly the same. I remember many times, for seasons or years, where my soul was one of those houses. There were behaviors that didn’t serve me well, destructive habits, the worst tape loops playing in my head, self-sabotage, all buried under an avalanche of unhealthy perspectives. The task, cleaning me up, creating new pathways, was so enormous, I ended the next year with, at best, the same work ahead as the previous.
What I so clearly see now is that the answer is the same, put a few dishes in the sink today. Then a few more tomorrow. In the Bible, the exiled Jewish people return home and work begins to rebuild the temple. The old temple that had been razed was so grand, fantastically ornate and glorious, how could they ever possibly rebuild that one? The prophet Zechariah wrote, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (Zech. 4:10)
There is a Japanese concept called kaisen, where continuous small, almost imperceptible changes compound, leaving the company, or process, drastically transformed.
I think this is what Zechariah is talking about, kaisen, or small beginnings. Set a plumb line – in this case, set our eyes on God and His vision for the temple, or our lives, families, communities, nations. This plumb line stays static, not swaying to meet the popular, convenient, or comfortable, and we begin to build with that as our guide. One block at a time. One dish. One moment. One lie in the tape loops that screamed in my ears. Just one. One step. We don’t need to know when the tunnel ends, or even where it will lead. We have a plumb line, and that plumb line is trustworthy and certain.
I know one step seems insignificant. We want to lose 100lbs by working out for 7 hours a day every day, but the next time that works will be the first, and we end up doing nothing. If we eat a bag of Oreos every day, maybe instead of eating none, we eat a bag minus one today. Or we do 1 pushup. Or read 1 verse.
We set the plumb line, don’t despise the small beginnings, and know that Our God, Our Creator rejoices to see the work begin. Then, the next year, we look back and barely recognize the person who began the work. We are increasingly new. We can see our bed and sleep in it without risk of suffocating under all of the ways we harm ourselves.
There is an old adage, an answer to the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time. Maybe this year, we start taking bites.