I recently moved from a very big city in England to an outrageously small town in a remote corner of Canada. This community is home to about 1000 people and its closest neighbouring town is an hour away. But none of this came as a surprise to me when I arrived here, as this town is where I was born and raised.
The city had been such a great place to be Catholic! I found it easy to believe God was doing big things when everything around me was so impressive and dynamic! There were so many beautiful churches, prayer groups of any style you like, and all kinds of brilliant faith and social events. Best of all, I was surrounded by other young Catholic friends who became like family and inspired me to go deeper in my faith. Over time, I began to feel as though my eyes had been opened to spiritual realities all around me which I had until then been oblivious to. I was seeing my prayers answered in powerful ways, and came to know God as a very real Father who was involved in every moment of my life and provided for all my needs with incredible generosity. My sense of purpose in this deeper relationship with him satisfied a hunger that I had previously tried anxiously and unsuccessfully to fill with other things, and I felt more free and at peace than I ever had before. In short, my new understanding of how real God is had caused me to become a very different person, and I didn’t want to go back to the way I was.
When I came back to my hometown, I literally increased the Catholic young adult population by over 33% (the other two members of this demographic being my sister and her husband). So as you can imagine, I could no longer rely on stimulating events and novelties to energize my faith. I also felt the strong pull of my old life, and the expectations of the people who have always known me. I was afraid that in the crushing ordinariness of this spiritual and social desert I’d lose sight of what I’d experienced in England. I couldn’t let that happen. I could not allow myself to slide back into the belief that life is ordinary and boring when I had so recently learned that it’s actually dramatic and miraculous. That would be a kind of death! So I decided if I couldn’t see God in big things, I would have to start seeing him in little things. I asked the Holy Spirit to breathe life into me and my surroundings, and I pleaded with God to show me he was here with me in this little town just like he had been before.
Of course he was here, and even though I should have known that, he was kind enough to reassure me. I had arrived just after Christmas, and at one point my little niece noticed there was a present under the tree with my name on it, so she brought it to me and asked if she could help me open it. She pulled out the gift – a set of Dove body care products. Then at the bottom of the gift bag she found an ornament that had fallen off the tree. It was a dove! I took it as a sign the Holy Spirit had heard my prayer, and was revealing himself to me exactly where I was. I still have that ornament hanging in my room to remind me of this fact.
I gradually became aware that in this little town, God was often asking me to pray for little things and sometimes for little people. At one point in my supply teaching work I encountered a four-year-old girl who was painfully shy. She would rarely speak in class and at playtime would always stand next to the teacher instead of playing with the other kids. When I noticed this I felt really sad for her. The next time I was there I asked God to draw her out of herself, give her confidence and help her to form good friendships with the other kids in her class. Later that day at the end of playtime I was trying to round up all the kids from the playground and get them lined up by class before they went inside, but I noticed three little girls way out at the other end of the field, struggling to walk back through deep snow. At first I thought, “Come on, girls! The whole school is waiting for you!” I sent two older girls to run out and help them. As they got closer, I realized one of them was the little girl I had prayed for. She had been playing with two of her classmates! It was a little thing that felt like a major victory!
I even discovered that God speaks through my least favourite hymns at church. Once during mass I noticed my dad was coming down with a cold, and he was supposed to be going on a long trip the next day, so I said a prayer for him. The next hymn was “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” – one I find particularly grating. But this time, one of the lines jumped out and resonated with me: “He is your health and salvation”.
The next day I asked my dad how he was feeling. “Fine. I thought I was going to have a bad cold! Weird.”
God has been showing me that he is just as much in the little things as he is in the big, sensational things. He’s been challenging me to look deeper at life in this little town and see that the ordinariness of it is actually an illusion. It often reminds me of the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Any passer-by that night might have looked at it and seen nothing but a poor family trying to put their baby to sleep in a feedbox-turned-cradle. Only a few people were able, by God’s grace, to see beyond that and understand the disadvantaged child in the manger was actually the Son of God. Don’t be fooled! “Ordinary” is nothing but a thin veil over the supernatural reality of every human being’s existence.