Fire ants. Those of you in Florida and Georgia know what I am talking about. Nasty little critters. But they are truly amazing in one aspect — they can build a really serious ant hill, usually in the matter of a day. And how do they do it? They take one grain of sand at a time, move it up through the ground and across the sand to what initially seems like no place in particular. And then they do it again and then again. You may not even see the mound at first, and even if you did, it would probably seem as if they are accomplishing absolutely nothing. But before you realize it, there is a mini-mountain, sometimes multiple feet tall. And all the while they were doing it, it appeared like they were getting nowhere. That is why Proverbs tells us to go find an ant and “observe its ways” (Proverbs 6:6-8)
Reality is that every major accomplishment happens this same way – one phone call at a time, one meeting at a time, one session of exercise at a time – one grain of sand at a time. Virtually no one has ever accomplished anything significant “all at once”. Sadly, there are many, many people who want to “get rich quick” and never do; it rarely ever happens this way. Others want to get over depression in a day, and never do, because they never do the hard work of talking through one hurt at a time, one ministry session at a time, unpacking one negative thought at a time. They want it “right now,” so they skip the work that would lead to freedom and happiness. It is the same in relationships, as people want lasting love “at first sight”. The really good relationships are built one act of sharing at a time, one conflict resolution at a time, and one expression of compassion at a time.
When we can let go of having it all “right now,” or “all at once,” it lessens the chances of getting totally derailed when it doesn’t happen that way. For example, an angry or bitter person finds freedom by forgiving people – sometimes lots of people. And along that path of faithful obedience, it may seem like there are many “grains of sand” to be moved and it may feel like nothing is being accomplished. But if the individual just doesn’t give up, a major transformation will occur in their lives almost before they realize it.
John Grisham relates that this is how he became an author while still a practicing attorney. He got up a little early and wrote one page a day until, after more than a year, he had his first novel ready for submission to a publisher. Then, after one submission at a time many times over, he found one who would publish it – just like the ant. The apostle Paul provides similar encouragement when he instructed the Galatians to “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
I shared a few weeks ago about my visit with my parents in Seattle. There were moments when I just stared at my 92-year-old father, asleep in his recliner, and reflected on his life – he is one of “the greatest generation.” I hope we have not become a people who have wrapped ourselves with a sense of entitlement – an air about us that “wants it all and wants it now because I have a right to it”. It took years of arduous and horrific sacrifice on the part of our fathers and forefathers to provide us with the liberty, freedom and independence we enjoy today. And those hearty and faithful men did it one frozen step, one hungry day, one fierce battle at a time – but they believed and pushed on. And so should we.