the importance of staying small

There is a map of the world hanging in an office some 9,000 miles away from my front door. At first glance, it looks as though the continents are in the wrong place. But after a bit of study, you realize it isn’t wrong at all, but simply drawn from another perspective. Standing in the Compassion International office in Manila, Philippines, our team stared hard at that map. And seeing Asia in the middle with North and South America shifted way to the right didn’t cause one entitled huff or puff. Instead, our entire team breathed a collective sigh of relief.

I’ve thought of that moment a lot, wondered why we all had the same reaction to that map in that moment. Perhaps it’s because traveling the world helps you realize you aren’t the center of it. And there is a great relief in remembering that it isn’t all about us.

My dad used to watch our kids as toddlers and say under his breath, We teach them when they’re babies that they’re center of the world, and they spend the rest of their lives realizing they’re not. It’s true, we do it. We have to tend to them as though their world depends on it, because it does. They are so small. But so are we.

Still, we spend a lot of time working hard to keep our world spinning ’round–write the proposal, plan the meal, pick up the girls, deliver the brownies, ask him the questions, give them attention, and on it goes. We have to do these things, as they are our living, our livelihood, our art. But our living and our art can quickly cross over into our burdens even as we will them not to.

Instead of living and loving out of a place of fullness, we grasp for meaning and worth out of a place of need. Call me important! Tell me I matter! our actions cry out. There is a voice that whispers, You are and you do, but not because of all this activity.

Celebrate your smallness today. Lay back on the wide green earth and let the world spin the sun right up above you. And breathe a sigh of sweet relief as you realize you had nothing to do with it.


  1. says

    i came here for a totally separate reason, and now i’m stuck in that place…where my eyes burn and i don’t know why. where my heart catches in my throat, and i once again. breathe.

    thank you for writing, friend.

  2. says

    Thank you! You put a wonderful perspective on the day ahead … and many more I hope (I’m just so good att going back to my Tiny thought-world … But I’m working on it).

    “And breathe a sigh of sweet relief as you realize you had nothing to do with it.” Thank God for people that can express greatness in words!

  3. says

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. A great perspective for the day ahead. I’m going to celebrate that smallness you describe today. I completely agree with Eva – ”thank God for people that can express greatness in words”. The photography is real art, awesome.

  4. says

    Mmm…such sweet truth to savor this morning, Emily. I’ve been thinking a bit about this lately as I See how my own little-one has this perspective of everything being all about him, what I’ve done for him to have that (and how necessary my focus on him needs to be sometimes), and what I can do to shift my perspective (and his)…how freeing!

  5. says

    “There is a voice that whispers, You are and you do, but not because of all this activity.” Ain’t that the truth!

    Here in Australia, our maps have Australia in the centre so we are used to maps with N&S America on the right and Europe and Africa on the left! Pretty much like the one you saw in Manila, I’d think!

  6. says

    so beautiful….

    reminds me ( although your words are much more eloquent) about the scene in “you’ve got mail” when meg ryan is logging in on her computer and talking about her small , simple life. i always loved how simply beautiful it sounded…

    always love a morning visit with you

  7. says

    yes. had a very similar experience recently while helping a missionary friend put together a display board…the map perspective was from “under” the lower half of the globe with australia in the center.
    i love how you celebrate smallness…beautiful encouragement for me here today.

  8. says

    Everytime that wiley, wool-ey self rises up, so do the burdens! When I remember smallness is not only a-ok, but good, I do breathe that sigh of relief. Yes! You said it so eloquently. I do love being small, until I don’t. :) Thank God there’s people who remind us.

  9. says

    I returned from Greece a couple weeks ago and felt some similar reminders about my own smallness.

    It was kind of a scary reminder for me. I think I like my quiet, small place on this planet. :)

    Beautiful post.

  10. says

    Good Morning Emily!

    What beautiful photos! Thank you for the words of perspective, an outflow from your well of wisdom. It’s NOT about me…it’s about YOU God.

    Your father’s words made me think. Our teaching our little ones that they are the center of the world….is that possibly a phenomenon of the last few generations? Babies are naturally self-centered…that’s about survival…and because of the fallen nature of man. But how can we help our children quickly out of that state. And of course in order for us to do that…we also must recognize for whom we are created.

    I love your blog. Each post has one or more things for me to contemplate. And written with such grace and beauty.

    Wishing you a wonderful and blessed week!

    P.S. A number of years ago I was very sick. During this time God showed me that my value didn’t come from all my doing (think Energizer bunny) but in my being. That was a Wow moment.

  11. says

    Thank you, Emily. I needed to be reminded of the “voice that whispers you are and you do, but not because of all this activity”. So often I get hung up on my performance–thinking that is what makes me valuable. My head knows better, but my heart struggles.

  12. says

    Thank you, Emily. Beautiful photos, artfully illustrating a beautiful, gentle message. With you, I breathe a sigh of sweet relief, relax and enjoy all the Lord has given for today.

  13. says

    Beautiful. A much-needed reminder today as my own world spins a bit wonky, my life sort of overwhelming. I’m not the center of it though….ah, that is such relief. Thank you, Emily.

  14. says

    Thank you Emily for your beautiful words. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now, and always come away inspired and uplifted. Today’s words are no exception. Thank you for your writing.

  15. says

    “traveling the world helps you realize you aren’t the center of it”

    When I started going on trips that took me out of the country I learned this so fast. At first it was so disruptive, then revealing, now I find it refreshing :) thanks for the reminder :)

  16. says

    Emily, thank you for this wonderful reminder. “our living and our art can quickly become burdens” This is a season of “nurturing” for me. Creating art that doesnt drain me of the joy. Finding a place in my heart to store all the things I saw and heard while in Ecuador adopting number four and praying that God will bless us with number five. The fear of feeling so tired and that That season is over….. so much wrestling. Yet, grace….. and mercy abound.

  17. says

    Oh, praise God for your words… His words through you! I was GREATLY encouraged, thank you. I love your dad’s thought, so true. Oh how we need to raise them to see themselves in light of Him from the very begining.

    JOYfully in Him,

  18. says

    Instead of living and loving out of a place of fullness, we grasp for meaning and worth out of a place of need. Call me important! Tell me I matter! our actions cry out. There is a voice that whispers, You are and you do, but not because of all this activity.

    Thank you! Needed that one this morning…. Sharing it forward too.

  19. says

    Your post reminded me of the feelings I had after my first mission trip. The world and the needs in the world are so much bigger than just us. Reflecting on this reminds me of WHO is important. Thanks for another reminder!

  20. says

    i live on a mountain and there is a place along the driveway with steep on both sides and teh tallest trees. it is there hat i realize i am. great post, emily!

  21. rhonda says

    As I read this post, I felt myself “unwind” and some of the tension I have felt all day leave. Thank you for reminding me that I truly am small…and that’s okay

  22. says

    I remember when I was young, talking to a friend, and it (finally) occurred to me that other people actually lived their own lives and weren’t simply extras in mine. Sad but true.

    My smallness and God’s bigness is most apparent to me when I look out the window of an airplane. All the people, all the cars, all the homes. Each life so full and God knows each little detail.


  23. says

    I know I’m a day late but still wanted to comment! Loved this perspective today, Emily! Thanks for sharing your heart day-in and day-out with us.

  24. says

    Thank you for this great post – it’s definitely touched something within me…I think that it’s so important to be humble and realise the world is God’s and we’re just a part of it – important parts, but not the centre.

    Love the beautiful photos! Thanks, from another SITS girl xxx

  25. says

    Stopping by from SITS.

    Your blog is beautiful. So are the thoughts you share in this post. We could all stand to remember more often how small we are and that it is right that we be so.

    Congratulations on your forth coming book.

  26. says

    Happy SITS Day…you sound very relaxed in your writing. I hope to be more like that as I write more. Good thoughts to not be so self-centered. I was driving one day last year in another city just miles from my house that I had never been to and the thought struck me that this place filled with all these people goes on every minute of the day with activities and I never knew about it. Sometimes we get stuck in our own little worlds. It is good to escape them now and then and see the BIG PICTURE.

  27. says

    This is the most beautiful post I have read in a long time.

    I have only just found your blog (through SITS!) but it has become an instant favorite!

  28. says

    Popped in from SITS! I love how your blogging landed you a book proposal and yet you still understand the importance of how we all fit in. Kudos to you! It’s truly inspirational!

  29. says

    Hi Emily, Found you on SITS… How utterly inspirational you are, Especially for a newbie like me! I’ve got you on reader now :) I think I’m hooked!

  30. says

    Hey, Emily!

    I read the article at SITS this morning, and loved the interview with you, I’m subscribing to your blog, now. I suspect we may have a lot in common.

    I am stuck on the profundity of your Dad’s statement, and suspect I may be chewing on that one all day long.

  31. says

    I’m linking over from SITS…. Love this post. On our “to~do” list today is to write to our Compassion kiddos {I’m sad to say it’s something we don’t do often enough}. It’s SO easy to get wrapped up in our own world’s and lose perspective. This is a great reminder to keep our eyes open to the bigger picture.

  32. says

    So glad I found SITS and your blog on it.

    “Celebrate your smallness today. Lay back on the wide green earth and let the world spin the sun right up above you. And breathe a sigh of sweet relief as you realize you had nothing to do with it.”

    Smallness has to be one of the best reasons to celebrate…

  33. says

    I spent yesterday in the ER, just lying there for 8hrs, listening. People were rushed into surgeries, had heart attacks, pneumonia, blood clots, signed DNR’s. All I could do was lay there and pray for these faceless people around me who were much worse off… and realize that the lesson of the day was that the world keeps moving with or without blog posts, party planning, house cleaning and lunch making. Today, I hear your post loud and clear. It’s a relief to be small when God is so BIG.

  34. says

    Oh yes.
    So often that is my response to your posts.
    Thats it.
    Thanks for putting it into words that radiate.

    Love from South Africa.

  35. Alison B. says

    Wow – you have a way with words. Pretty much summed it up right there. I think I’ll print it off and put in on my fridge for it to “sink in” for a while.

    Thank you for reminding all of us of this – sometimes its so hard to forget.

    Have a wonderful day!


  36. says

    Dear Emily!

    I love this perspective! I’ve never thought of it before, I’ve just struggled with the feelings you describe. It never occurred to me that staying small could be such a relief! Thank you for showing this perspective!
    God bless you!
    -Ava Sophie

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