A couple of years ago, I was at the library with Dana and our oldest daughter, Emma. As we were walking back to the car, Emma suddenly bolted down a cement staircase right outside the library doors, which seemed to go down into an unused area of dirt and rather pathetic looking bushes. I started to say something to stop her, but then I noticed that she was picking up trash. I turned to Dana (who had also bent down to pick up some trash while I wasn't looking), and asked what she was doing. Dana said, "We always do that. People always throw trash down there and Emma likes to clean it up." Emma came back up the steps and started putting the trash in the trash can (which, incidentally, was approximately 5 feet from the stairwell, .) Fearing that I had a developing Adrian Monk on my hands I asked her why she picked up the trash. My (then) four-year-old daughter looked back at me with a mischievous grin (like she was inviting me into some kind of conspiracy), and said, "I'm making the world a better place, Daddy." I just stood there stunned until I was able to swallow the lump in my throat. Then, I walked down the steps, grabbed some trash and threw it in the garbage on my way to hug my smiling little girl.
Don't get me wrong. There was still a lot of trash at the bottom of those stairs. She couldn't possibly clean it all up herself. Even if she could have...even if the 3 of us had talked a group of people into helping us clean up that spot of ground...the world would still be a mess. I realize that there are bigger problems in the world than people who throw garbage on God's creation because it was too difficult to walk the extra 4 steps to the garbage can. But that's the trick, isn't it? We skip the little problems because, in our view they pale in comparison to the big problems. At the same time, we don't engage the big problems because we know they are far to large for individuals like us to have any kind of significant impact. The problem is, that every time I start to play that little justification game with myself about the issues in front of me, whether they are "too big" or "two small", I remember Emma's mischievous little grin and her conspiracy to "make the world a better place".
I remember Jesus saying:
"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven"
Then, his words wash over me again:
"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
I am reminded that this is how the Kingdom of God breaks through...a conspiracy of childlike mischievous grins, defiantly planting mustard seeds of hope in a world that often appears to be littered with despair, injustice and hopelessness.
As we walked back to our car that afternoon, I silently prayed, "Dear God, please help me be like Emma. Thank you for Dana, who is teaching her to be like you."