The Holiness of Small Things
Growing up, I went through a lot of different phases. For a long time, I wanted to be a teacher. And then I wanted to be an artist. Then an architect. Then a lawyer. I switched back to teacher for a couple years, but only until I decided I wanted to be a missionary to Asia.
A few more years passed, and I finally ended up as a wife, mama, and homemaker. And though I’ve seemingly reached the point where my primary “life’s work” has been made known, I still find myself at times with a discontented desire to be something more. An established writer, perhaps. Or a seasoned pastor’s wife with a more “extensive” ministry (as opposed to the current ministry I have to my family while my husband goes through seminary).
While those desires may not be wrong in themselves, they reveal the fact that something of greater importance is lacking in my life: the simple ambition to be holy.
A Common Call
God has called His people to a myriad of different roles and responsibilities, places and positions: mothers in the suburbs, teachers in the inner city, employees in the factory, daughters making dinner, singles serving the church, wives writing books, and so on. And yet despite this great diversity of labors and locations, we are all called to one common life work, and that is the work of holiness.
Some things in Scripture are more difficult to discern than others, but the Christian’s call to holiness is quite clear. Here’s a small sampling of what the Bible says about God’s purpose for His people:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Ephesians 1:3-4).
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (Colossians 1:21-22).
For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:7).
As I look back upon my journey thus far as a Christian, I can remember specific seasons when my vision and ambition for holiness were expanding, and I walked away from specific habits, forms of entertainment, and other lifestyle choices out of a desire to be more like Christ. Often the changes were external—things both myself and others could more easily notice. I used to wear that, but now I don’t. I used to spend my time doing that, but now I spend my time doing this.
As a result, part of what spurred me on was the applause or verbal affirmation of someone I looked up to (or of someone who looked up to me). At times, it even put me in the limelight, which propelled my motivation even more—and also opened the door for pride to creep in.
Seeking Holiness in the Small
Now, as I find myself walking through a season of rather mundane routines and ordinary days, I am coming to see that God’s call to holiness is also a call to humility. God has called me to be a holy wife, a holy mother, and a holy homemaker. These days, pursuing holiness in those areas consists of a thousand little things, things that will perhaps only be seen or known by God and those in my own home.
I want to do something “great” for the Lord and be a “mighty woman of God,” but the holiness I am called to today is putting off fleshly irritability and answering my toddler with kindness. It’s setting aside selfishness to give the boys a bath after dinner, so my husband can study. It’s quietly choosing to be content when I walk through Target and see everything my home lacks. It’s putting my phone down and tackling the laundry in order to serve my family. It’s getting up in the morning and doing all of those things again.
Everyone walks through seasons of seeming insignificance and hiddenness. Perhaps you’re a college student living at home and toiling through yet another semester. Perhaps you’re a middle-aged mom taking meals to new mothers and driving your kids to soccer practice. Or maybe you find yourself at home with a newborn baby after leaving behind a successful, even God-glorifying, career platform.
In the midst of these phases of life, do we humbly seek the small things of holiness? Or are our hearts longing only for the days when we’re authoring books on holiness, speaking in auditoriums on holiness, or finally getting our degree so we can go and do something holy?
In Your Own House
In his book The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung writes:
Holiness is the sum of a million little things—the avoidance of little evils and little foibles, the setting aside of little bits of worldliness and little acts of compromise, the putting to death of little inconsistencies and little indiscretions, the attention to little duties and little dealings, the hard work of little self-denials and little self-restraints, the cultivation of little benevolences and little forbearances.
In other words, our growth in holiness will often consist of a million little things that nobody besides God will know about. And to joyfully submit to that fact and yet still maintain a zealous desire to pursue holiness is nothing but a work of God’s mighty grace in our hearts—hearts that fall so easily to the lingering snare of pride.
I’m reminded of what David wrote: “I will ponder the way that is blameless. . . . I will walk with integrity of heart within my own house” (Psalm 101:2). Within my own house? Well, that’s boring! Nobody is going to write a book on the holiness I walked out behind closed doors in my own home.
No, there won’t be a book written on how I spoke to the customer service rep on the phone or how I woke up and read my Bible again or how I quietly labored to throw off small acts of selfishness toward my husband. But I am to do these things not because everyone else will see but because my sovereign Father in heaven sees. And by His grace, He takes those small, daily, does-this-really-matter acts of obedience and slowly, yet surely, produces the fruit of a Christ-glorifying, godly life—a holiness of small things.
By Tessa Thompson