The small daily differences

A few grains at a time, this tiny sand crab dug an impressive hole. Dam Neck, Virginia, June 2014

A few grains at a time, this tiny sand crab dug an impressive hole.
Dam Neck, Virginia, June 2014

“We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”Marian Wright Edelman

Years ago, during a baseball game when the opposing team kept making small, unexciting advances that led to a big gap in the score, I remember one announcer saying “this is like being nibbled to death by gnats.”  That phrase really stuck with me, because sometimes it seems that 90% of my life (and 99% of my daily time) consists of trivial details.

Just a few examples that may be familiar to you: phone calls to schedule, change or confirm appointments– and thanks to robot callers, I get endless reminder calls for these appointments.  Junk advertising in the U. S. mail, email, or annoying flyers left at the door to blow all over our yards, leaving us to retrieve and recycle them.  Beds to make, breakfast to prepare, bathrooms to clean (or babies to change).  Broken appliances, broken nails, broken promises from handymen who said they’d get right back to us with an estimate.  Do you ever wish just ONE contact would be enough to take care of a seemingly simple matter?

Sometimes it all adds up to a day that exhausts me without leaving me the satisfaction of feeling that I’ve made any real progress on anything that matters.  Then I lose more time to fretting and fuming, distracted and discontent.

At such times I have to remind myself that the process also works the other way around.  As surely as continual small demands eat into our time, so tiny fragments of things accomplished add up too, whether we see it or not.  I might not have gotten anything big done today, but perhaps the dozens of little things I got done aren’t as insignificant as they seem now.  Life, after all, is mostly maintenance, and somebody has to do it.

I think it’s wise to evaluate and re-evaluate where we spend our time, and eliminate whatever “busywork” we can.  But in the end, there will still be a lot of nagging details to attend to.  We can’t very well ignore medical appointments, bills, or essential things that get broken. We’ll always have to spend some time on tasks we aren’t particularly thrilled to be doing.

But we can do these things with a (forced) smile and some fun music in the background, and reward ourselves with a cup of tea after we knock out a few repetitive obligations.  We also  can explore ways to use small gaps of time to address more important things.  In just a few minutes, we can call a loved one who is ill or lonely, send a quick thank-you to a thoughtful person who’s made a difference for us, or make time to appreciate something lovely in our world – a flower, a bird, a favorite photo of someone special.

Most of all, we can remind ourselves not to take too seriously the movies about superheroes who save the world with amazing feats of strength.  In reality, although we all long to do great things, we are mostly called to do little things, again and again, over long periods of time.  This sort of faithful diligence may be as important, or more important, than any accomplishment we hear about on the evening news.

If you find you are being worn down by little things, I hope you’ll grab a few minutes of break time to relax, take a few deep breaths, and reassure yourself that a bit of wheel-spinning is inevitable.  Put yourself on the National Do Not Call Registry, remove your name from junk mail lists, streamline the housework, and take steps to eliminate as many other “gnats” as you can.  Then, tackle the others as you are able, giving yourself permission not to be the world’s most efficient person

Things that are big or beautiful or lasting rarely happen quickly.  Over time, with patience, love and devotion, our faithfulness to small and thankless tasks can build something amazing that we can’t foresee from where we are now.

One year ago today:

The real secret







  1. Thank you Julia, I needed this post. Lately I have been going through the same tunnel. Reading my favorite blogs is my deflator. Hope you have a great day :o).

    • You are welcome, Patricia, I’m happy you enjoy reading blogs and I appreciate your being here. Today was very nice for us and I hope it was for you too. Have a great week!

  2. Jack

    My 16 year old son told me he was “stuck in a rut” a few weeks ago. This after weeks on end of staring at a computer, a tv, a game console, his “needed decompress time” from a busy school year. He’s now working on our hay farm, started a little pressure wash business, and next week going to Philly to help a neighbor move back to Birmingham, the rut long since forgotten. The men in my family we’re not wired to sit and when we do, emotional trouble is brewing. Activity begets activity, for inertia is real, powerful, spiritual…I do my best worrying when I’ve been idle too long. May I never forget the importance of getting up and getting going

    • Jack, I totally agree with this, even for women. But it does seem more obvious in men. Jeff has been able to work a normal schedule except on treatment days or while he has been in the hospital, and I think it’s made all this so much easier to bear for him. I know I am better off when I am busy with activities that do NOT involve screens of any sort!! It’s a tough challenge because more and more household management and financial tasks are going online. Record-keeping, filing, bill paying, correspondence (business and most of personal too) and even photography, videos and music, all are online now and involve computer time. This makes walking, gardening, visiting with friends, enjoying crafts, and getting SLEEP more important than ever in my life! Though I don’t prioritize them as much as I should. Worry seems almost always inversely proportional to the amount of physical activity we do. Once during a very stressful time in my life, I was forced to work on the ramp for USAir (instead of the ticket counter and gate) due to a union dispute that had senior employees bidding away from ramp. I spent a few months loading baggage on and off planes in all sorts of weather, and it was amazingly less stressful than working with customers directly. I did feel like an accident waiting to happen whenever I drove tugs, directed aircraft parking or really anything else that involved any skill – chocking the aircraft wheels was about the only task I really loved doing, other than loading bags onto and off of planes. But I came to see the forced time on the ramp as a real lifesaver because it was such a stress-buster and really relieved a lot of my worries about other things (mostly Matt’s health).

  3. Patricia

    Once again, just what I needed to hear. May God bless you this very moment with the peace that passes all understanding.

    • Thank you Patricia! Your prayers are being answered; tonight is a time of peace for us. I’m happy you enjoyed the post.

  4. Julia,
    What you describe is very much my daily juggernaut of routine. Except for the diaper changing.(There but for the grace of God…)
    Sometimes the seemingly smaller things we do are the biggest in some way; If just by making contact, someone feels they are remembered, and not as alone as they thought.

    • Alan, I threw in the diaper thing because being with our infant grandson a few times this past year has brought back memories of how busy babies keep us. I agree that things that appear small to us may seem large to others. I can think of times when small gestures from kind people have made all the difference to me at very difficult times. Hope you have a wonderful week!

  5. Sheila

    Julia, you never cease to amaze me! What a great topic today, and it really gives us so much to think about. We are always in the midst of doing something, aren’t we? I really think being interested in what we’re doing, no matter how mundane, makes any task more appealing. I think I need to get “interested” in fixing dinner! ☺️

    • Sheila, you hit the nail on the head. These repetitive little tasks are so B-O-R-I-N-G compared to all the wonderful interesting stuff there is to do! I don’t mind anything that allows me to listen to an audiobook while I do it, but the kinds of stuff I was mentioning make that impossible. Books on tape (the first audiobooks were cassette tapes) changed my whole life as a young mother because I could do all sorts of formerly dreaded tasks while I was absorbed in a good story. If it was really suspenseful and at an exciting part, I’d find myself deciding to clean the oven or scrub the bathroom tiles! 😀

  6. raynard

    Julia I was just talking to my next door neice for 2 hours about this topic” small changes”.. Sorta like the cake I baked. ( the blue velet) I will send you a picture via email.The small differences in it was 1 my wife made the cream cheese frosting and 2 I added some crused butterfinger candy. be blessed

    • Raynard that cake looked so YUMMY I had three imaginary pieces and still got ZERO calories! The crushed butterfingers were a perfect touch with the cream cheese and strawberries; very creative. The great thing about imaginary desserts is I can eat all I want and still leave all of it for someone else to enjoy. Hope you have a great week!

  7. “Life, after all, is mostly maintenance, and somebody has to do it.”…
    Julia, I must keep this in time… 🙂

    • Merry, I am learning to love maintenance after the past 18 months have left us so often unable to keep up with “normal” and “routine” things!

  8. Excellent advice, Julia!

    • Thank you, Alys! I imagine your job involves helping people with similar advice often.

  9. LB

    Julia, if you haven’t had a chance to read Pauline’s latest post, and you need a good laugh, check out the paragraph where she lists what she needed to get done before updating the blog.
    I like the idea of listening to a book on tape while doing domestic chores! That would definitely bring more joy to those tasks!

    • LB, I just got back from virtual New Zealand where I got a really good laugh out of the adventures of Pauline, Orlando and Siddy. That photo of Orlando’s face cracked me up and Siddy is one adorable stuffed toy, isn’t he? But reading Pauline’s task list made me feel as if I had it easy today!!! Perspective, perspective. Thanks for letting me know about that funny post. Books on tape have kept me (relatively) sane since 1990! I only listen to the unabridged versions, but pretty much all recent books can be downloaded free from the local library on Overdrive. What a bargain!

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