Don’t let the smallness make you small.C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis describes hell, and all that is not heaven, as small because it cannot hold that which is heavenly. Lewis is trying to convey a sense of the magnitude of the Divine in contrast to the smallness of our own world and call us to behave in a bigger, more heavenly way.
The term “smallness” evokes a sense of being less. Little. Small-mindedness refers to narrow thinking. We equate a “small” heart with less generosity. It suggests a cramped existence in a small, clenched-fist approach to life and its challenges. It also implies a retreat from the possibility that lies in front of each of us.
Contrast small with big, or expansive. Roomy. We describe a “bigger” person as one who rises above the indignities cast upon him or her. Big thinkers come up with new ideas or solve complex problems. The latin root “magn” means “great.” Think magnitude or magnanimous. Here we find broad, expansive thinking and the open arms of a generous heart.
The world, and its people, can be exceptionally small. The difficulties accorded us place downward pressure upon our being, working to pin us into a small life. Here, we find the narrow paths of limited choices and less hope. When we are crammed into smallness, we feel small. When we feel small, we act small. When we live here, we find little room for that which is heavenly.
No one seeks the cramped existence of smallness. It just happens. The slow by-product of difficulties that wear us down, smoothing the sharper edges that once enabled us to cut through the noise, to resist the smallness. The lessening is subtle and seeps into our core thoughts: about ourselves, the world around us, even our own morality. To live in the small leads us to compromise our sense of self and rationalize the choices we make, throwing them upon the altar of expediency and the easy path. Smallness quietly carves chasms through our soul if we allow it to move unchecked.
One day, we wake up seeing things through the cloudy lens of a heart too small to feel the joy of the beauty moving before us. Ultimately, smallness becomes a habit, an outlook, a philosophy, and an excuse. In a small life, “I’ becomes big. The trap of me and mine rules our decisions as we center ourselves in the small, requiring all that is little to orbit our preferences, unable to see the bigger universe lying just outside. As I consider it, it does sound like hell.
All of us know this place. We’ve all been there and many of us are already in the midst of creating the habits that will keep us there. To live small is to surrender to the blues, letting our difficulties or our moods, drive us to a sense of self-doubt and uncertainty. To live small is to view others in a small way, treat them small, or expect smallness from them. We get here because we feel small and our feelings can be convincing deceivers. We stay here because we allow ourselves to become victims to those same feelings – in spite of the fact that we know exactly what is happening to us.
The smallness will make you small if you let it. We all have been there and will be there again. So how do we avoid it, manage it, or escape it? Your first defense is knowing that “I” rests at the center of the small. Our selfishness is the most blatant sign of it and our biggest challenge in escaping it. Remember, how you carry your burdens affects everyone around you, ultimately making them the burdens of others.
First, look beyond yourself. Look at one person and will their good for no reason other than the fact that they exist and you can. Do something for someone else. Start there and the small circle becomes a little larger. If you don’t think you can, think again. This is the first and most important choice; a choice only you can make. When you make someone else feel good, you will begin to feel good.
Second, seek goodness. Goodness is inspiring. Goodness is hopeful. Goodness is big, expansive, possible. Go to a place of goodness. Find a good person. Find good acts. Having trouble identifying goodness? Then start with beauty. When we find beauty that moves us, there is often goodness in or around it. Find it and appreciate it. Expose yourself to the good and you will begin to feel good.
Third, seek purpose. Purpose in your day. Purpose in your words. Purpose in your life. Meaning comes from many sources and with meaning we find hope. It’s ok to start small for it is past small that we find big. If you feel that you have no purpose, remember that our purpose often lies hidden in those around us. Start with others and you’ll find the small “I” becoming a larger “We.” Not ready for others? Then find purpose in constructive action – even if that action is seemingly insignificant. Admiral William McRaven says to start by making your bed. Just start. Find a purpose for yourself in the moment in front of you and you will begin to feel good.
Still feeling small? Change your venue. Get out. Get out of your head. Get out of your house. Get out of your town. Remember the cramped, confined existence of smallness? Sometimes we need to step outside of that tight box and find perspective. A change in geography is rarely a permanent fix, after all, you’re still taking everything with you. However, a new vantage point can shift your view enough to help you take the next step away from smallness. Our surroundings, mental and physical, can dramatically shape our sense of the world and ourselves. Change your venue and you may begin to feel good.
Along the way, remember that smallness only makes us small when we let it. Those forces acting upon us may never go away but they cannot confine us unless we let them. They will not limit us unless we surrender to their limits. When you feel small, remember that feelings are fleeting. Refuse to let them become a habit. Interrupt them before they do.
Regardless of where you stand on the nature of the Divine and C.S. Lewis’ writings on Christianity, it is quite difficult to argue the fact that we can experience heaven and hell in our own secular existence. More often than not, we are creating both versions for ourselves in the space between our ears. If you are unable to believe in or reach to the Heavenly outside of this world, then start with your reaction to the smallness acting upon you – make the conscious choice to move beyond it. In this way you might find the heavenly in your own world.
If you reach to the Heavenly as part of your faith, then do as St. Augustine or St. Ignatius taught us, pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you. Either way, you will find yourself resisting the smallness the world foists upon you and moving toward the expansive living waiting for you just beyond today’s problems.