A powerful general principle in the spiritual life is this: everything adds up. Everything counts, and moves us in one direction or another, including small things. It isn’t generally the big things of our lives that play the largest role in shaping who we are, but all of the small things that add up over the course of our lifetimes. All of things we put into our minds add up. All of the decisions we make about our time add up, and on the other side of all of them, we become the kind of person that is naturally the sum of all of those things, because everything adds up. In his book, Falling for God, Gary Moon relates a great illustration of this is in a parable called “Crumbs and Bubbles” by Safed the Sage. It’s the story about Safed, who is spending a quiet day with his granddaughter when it begins to snow. The little girl looks out the window and notices the fluffy, falling flakes. She asks her grandfather to take her outside to play in the snow, and he cannot refuse.
Once outside, the little girl begins to giggle with delight as the snow comes down. She says, “Look grandpa, the snow is making crumbs and bubbles.”
When he asks her what she means by crumbs and bubbles, she explains, “The bubbles are falling against your face, Grandpa, and turn to water. But the crumbs land on your overcoat. They don’t melt and you can brush them off. Watch."
Safed marvels at the way the small child put the words together to describe her new experiences. They spend the day enjoying the crumbs and bubbles until the cold sends them inside to thaw out by their fireplace.
The next morning he awakens and notices how quiet everything has become. There is no movement outside, no noise from trains, cars, or footsteps. He looks out the window and observes that the snow has fallen in great drifts and brought the entire town to a hault.
Then he remembers the cute words of his granddaughter and how she described the crumbs and bubbles of snow, which have now piled up in such great drifts that they can stop a powerful train.
Then he unpacks the parable and says, “I considered that it is even so with many things in life that are small in themselves, but when multiplied they become habits that people cannot break, or grievances that rend friendships asunder, even as great drifts are made of bubbles and crumbs of snow.”
Snowflakes add up to make snowdrifts, just as the things we allow our minds to dwell on and the decisions we make about our time add up to make a person- either a person whose character is very significantly like that of Jesus, or a person whose character isn’t; they add up making me the kind of person that I want to be, or to something less.
C.S. Lewis also describes this well. He says in Mere Christianity, “Every time you make a choice [and I’ll add here- a choice about what to do with your time] you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”
Everything adds up, and this is one of the core ideas of understanding spiritual formation, because we are, always, being formed into some kind of person. This is true whether we know it or not, and living as a disciple of Jesus is largely about learning to recognize this and pay attention to it.