Finding Bright Spots

Are you a gardener? Then you know what I mean by “that smell.” It is the smell that makes gardeners breathe in deeply in the spring and probably even close their eyes. It is the promise of what is to come. It is the reward of making it through another long, cold winter. It is part of what makes you get out your gardening gloves even when you have to still wear a warm coat so that you can get started on what lies ahead.
 
If you are not a gardener, then you may not know what I am talking about. It is the smell of warm, damp earth when you first turn it over in the spring. All of the hopes and plans for the gardening year ahead are held captive in that first smell.
 
I read a book about change, one of the ones by the Heath brothers. (If you have not read these, you might look for them.) I find their writing to be very accessible and their stories to be encouraging. For instance, one of the stories they tell is about a study that was done in Viet Nam in the last century. There were toddlers in many villages that were failing to thrive because of malnutrition but there were a handful of places where the toddlers were healthy. Someone from a Western aid organization was sent to find out what was causing the difference.
 
This aid worker knew that he would not be the best investigator so he enlisted some local women to observe what was happening in each place. They noticed a few small changes that made all of the difference in the lives of the children.
 
First, it was the custom for children to feed themselves from the common rice bowl as soon as they could sit up. In the cases where children were thriving, adults were helping them to eat and making sure they ate enough. Second, most families ate twice a day and expected their toddlers to eat only twice a day. This was not providing their children with enough nutrition since they could not consume enough calories in only two meals per day. The toddlers who thrived were fed more often. Third, the children who were thriving were eating slightly different food. Their parents were including tiny shrimp that live in rice paddies and some greens with the rice that the children were eating. Those small changes made all of the difference. The foreign aid worker had looked for bright spots and found what was creating them.
 
One of the ways to identify the bright spots within our ministry settings is to first define what a bright spot would be. Here is a question that the Heaths say that therapists sometimes use with their clients: “If you woke up tomorrow morning and your life had changed to be the way you wish it was, what would be the first small change that you would notice?” In other words, what bright spot would you see?
 
So if you walked into church, or the health facility where you work,  or the educational institution where you carry out ministry, and it had become exactly the way you hoped it would be, what would be the first thing that you notice? What small change would show you that things were different? For instance, maybe it would simply be that people are smiling and engaging with one another in a way you have not seen for some time. The therapist’s question is then, “What small change might you make to begin to make that happen?”
 
The bright spot I notice in my garden every spring is that smell of overturned earth. I have to actually go out there and get my trowel into the dirt to enjoy it. That first small change of spring shows me that the soil is ready to bring about the beauty that will be produced. It shows me that there will be warm, sunny days to work with my flowers. It shows me that the promise of new life will be fulfilled.
 
What is the first small change that you would notice if your ministry setting became a bright spot for you in a new way? What can you do to help bring that about? How will you continue the work of bringing hope in the name of Jesus Christ?
 

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago
312-488-3015


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