One of the most meaningful years of my life was spent in the mountains with a bunch of teenagers. I worked for a wilderness therapy company that specialized in clinical treatment for adolescents with emotional and behavioral inconsistencies. Essentially, I sat around a campfire with a lot of kids who were depressed and anxious, and dealt with those feelings by running away from home, doing drugs, and self-harming.
We taught them a lot of different therapeutic coping skills, and one of my favorites was something called busting. In a nutshell, busting is the act of making a fire using two sticks. It’s pretty amazing, and also a lot of hard work and incredibly frustrating to learn. It takes a lot of practice, but there is something very fulfilling about sitting around a campfire that you literally created with your own two hands, without help from matches, fuel, lighters, etc.
One evening, I had been in charge of busting our campfire, so I knelt down and got to work, using a bow to drive a sage spindle into a larger, flatter piece of sage, called a fireboard. Within a couple minutes, I had busted an ember, which I then dropped into a nest of dry pine needles, sticks, and grass, and blew into a flame. The girls I was working with helped me build that little flame into a rather large campfire–big enough to cook our dinner, boil several gallons of water, and keep us warm until we later retired to our sleeping bags.
Sometime later, I had to leave the circle to check on a client. As I walked away from my dinner, the conversation, the warmth, I felt the heat evaporating from my clothing, face, skin, and into the dark night. Within minutes, I felt totally isolated in darkness and silence. The stars shone dimly in a chalky sky striped with wispy clouds, and as I paused at the top of a small hill to catch my breath, I found myself almost overwhelmed by the blackness and bitterness of the night. So I finished my task and hurried back to the comfort of the fire. As I sat on the ground, I absorbed the warm, glowing heat from the flames as they flickered and danced around in the darkness. I noticed the unequivocal contrast between the warm fire and the cold night. I felt comfort and peace. I thought about that tiny little ember–a mere spark that had become a raging, monstrous flame. I realized then the importance of one little spark.
A few years ago, I came across this image. It’s beautiful, right? (There are a million more like it here.) I have thought a lot about my role in this world of 7 billion people. Sometimes it feels like any contribution I make is entirely insignificant. I feel like the things I have to offer to the world aren’t enough to really matter. But then I think of that little ember, and how it created that giant fire, and I remember that a good spark could spread all over. It only takes one spark to ignite a raging wildfire. For better or for worse, one act, one deed, one moment, can have an irrevocable impact.
We hear a lot about people like Mother Theresa, or Hitler, and about how their actions and deeds changed everything. What we don’t hear a lot about is how last week, a woman swerved her car entirely to the other side of the road to give me plenty of space while I was running; that mattered to me, because it felt like she cared about what I was doing and literally went out of her way to make sure I was safe. We don’t talk about the man I saw walking along a busy road with a white trash bag, picking up garbage for seemingly no other reason than he wanted to make the world just a little bit better. Sparks.
Jesus’ was a message of love and kindness, of serving the poor and the meek, and the weary, but maybe that service doesn’t have to mean waking up every Saturday morning at 7am to serve food at a homeless shelter. Those things are meaningful and loving and impactful, but don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Maybe we don’t enough talk about the flowers given, or the nice notes received, or the friend who called just to check in on us; I don’t know if we don’t hear enough about how important these acts, these sparks, are in this world. And it’s funny, you know? Because these little experiences, moments, deeds–they’re the embers start create fires that really matter–the ones that burn long into the dark night when all other sources of light and heat have gone out.
One good spark could spread all over. Let’s talk about that more.