The Importance of Small Tweaks

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- Troy Hatfield

It’s finally started getting cold in Michigan.  The day it dropped into the ‘teens, I came home to find our house a lot colder than I expected.  After checking the thermostat, it became obvious the furnace wasn’t pulling its assigned weight.  I quickly grew worried because a) it was around 5:45pm and the coldest parts of the day were still to come and b) I don’t have any skills to fix a problem like this.

So I called my brother, who inherited from my father the ability to fix (or at least troubleshoot) just about anything – a skill that skipped me to a remarkable extent.  After using primitive language to explain what I understood to be the problem, my brother had me bouncing outside and down into the basement to check on a few things.  Each step in the process had me convinced we would need a new furnace, if not an entirely new house.  Finally he was ready to give his diagnosis.

“Here’s what I would do if I were you,” said my brother.

“Wait! Should I be writing this down?” 

“No, I think you can handle this.  Change the batteries in your thermostat and swap out the air filter on the furnace.”

Now, if I’ve sufficiently communicated how poor my fix-it-ness is, you might find it entertaining to know that I doubted my brother’s suggestions.  There’s no way, I thought, those simple correctives could solve this issue.  But I picked up some new batteries and a clean air filter at the hardware store, made the replacements and went out for a few hours.

I’m disappointed to say my brother was right.  His recommendations worked. My house was warm when I got back.

This experience reminded me of the importance of small tweaks.  There are so many times when my life and heart and mood and spirit are slowly growing colder and most of my self-diagnostic work calls for massive overhauls – a weeklong silent retreat, some intense fast or self-denial discipline, early morning prayer vigils.  

I am convinced there are seasons when these sorts of investments are right and good for us – but I am also convinced they are the exception, not the rule.  Instead, when I sense that growing chilliness creeping into my spirit, I am increasingly inclined to “check the batteries” rather than replace the entire furnace.  

This kind of mindset seems particularly appropriate with Lent approaching, this season of new resolutions, just a few months after our New Year ones have failed to materialize. 

What would it look like for us to pay attention to the smaller yet vital correctives during this Lenten season, rather than the more intense overhauls we typically attempt?

Do I have poor eating habits?  Am I putting things into my body that simply make me feel low-grade rotten all of the time?  Should I fast from eating badly?

Should I submit to better sleeping patterns?  Consider no screens (television, phone, iPad, Kindle, etc) one hour before bedtime.  Consider going to bed one hour earlier than normal.

Maybe I need 5 minutes every day of complete silence, of prayer, of coloring books and crayons, of conversation with a best friend, of being alone outside.

The difficulty of most Lenten observances is that they are so difficult to sustain outside of that season.  The more bite-sized adjustments lend themselves to a longer shelf life – they are more likely to become habits.  Abraham Heschel writes that the highest peaks in life are reached through common deeds.  “It is constancy that sanctifies,” he writes.  

May we be reminded of the importance of the small tweaks.  Consider giving yourself to simple “changing the batteries” type efforts.  And may you find joy and growth, not in the “rare act of greatness” that Heschel warns against, but “by everyday actions.”

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Troy is Lead Worship Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, where he’s been on staff since 2004. A musician, Anglophile, voracious reader and owner of more black clothing than anyone he knows, Troy has also recently married Lis, a violinist and lover of every member of the animal kingdom. Follow Troy on twitter @tr0yisbald.