Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air…
We talk about Doing Hard Things. Then we talk about doing Big Hard Things and Small Hard Things. It came to me, in my grandmother’s weary sigh, that spending time with her is what we call a Small thing. But as we drove away from dropping her home I realised with a pang of tender sorrow which haunts me often, that I will miss her sorely when she is gone. Perhaps Small is not the word we are looking for. This Small Hard Thing of spending time with her and taking her out so that she is not forever cooped up like so many of her friends, is in fact a very difficult thing for anyone with unwell relatives to do. ‘Small’ doesn’t quite encompass the knowledge of fading days as she eats less, wheezes more, struggles to stay on her feet, and draws ever closer to the day when she will meet the Maker she so stubbornly defies. Maybe Invisible is a better word for these ‘Small’ Hard Things.
Purple Saxifrage is an extremely hardy plant, common in the Arctic and in mountainous regions as far South as Norway and Scotland. It grows out on the tundra, a drop of colour amidst the cold, a small plant. It doesn’t grow to be seen. When it is seen, I am sure that it must be admired but most of the flowers will indeed blush unnoticed and fade without ever knowing the appraising glance of the human eye. Here’s the thing though, God sees that flower. He sustains it as it grows and blooms and enjoys the brightness and sweetness of the tough wee fella even if its existence is lost to all else but the rock it grows in. The purple saxifrage doesn’t need the appreciation of the world because it is enough that God delights in it.
What we call the Small Hard Things don’t always feel so small when we have to actually do them. They often feel rather big, more like Invisible Hard Things. These are the things which no one sees like rising in the morning to pray, picking up pieces of a silently broken family, having patience with your siblings, doing household chores without being asked, studying as you should when you are shut away in your room on your own. All of these things. They can be such very Big Hard Things simply because they are invisible. No one sees you do them and often no one notices. It is only in doing the small things that you realise just how monumentous they can feel, especially when you are trying to do them not just because you should, but for the glory of God.
I know better than anyone that I fail often in my small duties. Every day ends in frustration at the inability to do even simple tasks at times. On these days – more frequent than people imagine – be consoled with Christ’s words ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness’. Don’t worry His grace is sufficient, it’s what gets us through each moment. To do these Small Things may be invisible but it is like a small purple saxifrage bud in a crack of rock. The beauty is not wasted on the mountain air because there is a God who sees. And as we do these Invisible Things, the bud blooms to be followed by another and another until the rocks are clothed in a blanket of regal purple unrivalled even by the most perfect rose.
And so, gently I suggest that when you grow frustrated with doing endless Small Hard Things, take Paul’s advice and don’t grow weary of doing good. If it helps, don’t think of your tasks as ‘Small’ but as Invisible. The Father sees what is done in secret. These are the truly great things because they show a man’s innermost character.
The Invisible Hard Things are the hardest of all. Yet as I spend the hours with her, watching my gran slowly fade, I cherish the privilege of these anonymous moments. I know that God is watching and the flower which grows and blossoms with these acts of obedience will not blush unseen and its sweetness will remain long after the desert air has forgotten its name.