The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith."
The Lord replied,
"If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
Have you ever actually seen a mustard seed? A few years ago I was trying my hand at cooking Indian food, and the recipe called for mustard seeds. As I watched them pop in the pan, which was pretty cool, it dawned on me – oh! This is what a mustard seed looks like! It is tiny. Then of course I had to Google mustard tree to find out what it looks like. It’s quite large, in case you're wondering.
Watching those tiny things pop gave me a mini revelation. How can something so minuscule grow into something so giant? I guess God does that part. I believe in science of course, but there is something miraculous about it, once you stop to consider it.
It kind of goes against the grain of our super-sized U.S. culture, doesn't it? Our cell phones used to be pocket-sized and now they're basically tablets; we just have to say the word to make large fast food portions even bigger; and small families live in giant houses in neighborhoods filled with other giant houses. Big does seem to be better.
Except that Jesus says small is sufficient.
If I stop and think about it, most large-scale movements started small. Look at Christianity. It began with a bunch of rag-tag people who almost never even understood what Jesus was talking about. I mean, they probably didn’t even understand this mustard seed metaphor. “A mustard seed tipping a mulberry tree? What are you even talking about, Jesus?” And yet, look at how far and wide the Gospel spread. However small the faith of the first followers, it was enough to send the Good News to the ends of the earth.
My religious community started small too. Our founder, Jean Martin Moye, noticed how women living in poverty couldn’t overcome the cycle of poverty, and so he taught a few of them to read, sent some out to teach other women, and voilà! The Congregation of Divine Providence was born. There were only a few of us, and I don’t know how much faith those first women had, but they did the little thing they felt called to do, and it was enough. Now, there are sisters and associates all over the world, witnessing to the Providence of God and doing good things with and for people. “Great things have small beginnings,” as our founder said.
This heartens me for the little ministry we’re building now. It’s hard to keep faith when it grows slowly, but the other day I was telling a friend from grad school about God Space, and she reassured me in a mustard seed kind of way. She said that nonprofits are like perennials. The first year there’s no growth, the second year there’s tiny growth, and then the third year – boom! They take off. I hadn’t heard that before, but I’m encouraged, both for the sake of our ministry and our garden! I would love to see a boom in both, but it’s good to know that for now, subtle, incremental growth is normal – and sufficient.
It seems to me that almost nothings starts big. An idea or a call takes hold, a handful of people take a step forward, and, if it’s of God, the idea catches and boom! It grows. I am little, but God is big, so it’s enough to have just a tiny grain of faith. I offer what I can, and God grows it.
You’re welcome to stop by the God Space house to see how the perennials are doing. Who knows? Maybe I’ll plant some mustard too. :)
How would you describe the size of your faith right now?
Have you ever had the experience of beginning with something small and watching it grow? What was that like? Where was God in it?
What do you need from God right now for your faith to grow?
Is there something in your life that seems small that you would like to increase? What do you hope for, and how do you share that hope with God?
By Sister Leslie Keener, CDP
Sister Leslie Keener, CDP is the director of God Space, a community-building spirituality ministry in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. She’s a Sister of Divine Providence with a Masters in Ministry and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction and Retreats from Creighton University. She directs retreats, meets with people for spiritual direction, and serves as the vocation director for her community. She also serves on the Coordinating Council of Spiritual Directors International. She enjoys music, meaningful conversations, dancing — and gardening.