Not long ago, at his request, I shared the story of how I came to meet my wife with the priest I go to Confession to regularly. He is really exceptional for me, as he challenges me very hard, and helps me search my heart to see more clearly what drives me to self-destructive behavior, i.e. sin. As I shared various important moments in our relationship, he kept taking me back further and further, all the way back to the time before we met. It was a remarkable journey to take.
We ended up all the way back in October of 1984, to the origin of my decision to leave Massachusetts and go to Florida State University, where I would eventually meet my future wife, Patti Masters. He said, “Why Florida State?” I told him that decision originated in the office of the chief meteorologist at WBZ TV in Boston, Bruce Schwoegler. At the time, I was myopic in my resolve to be everything Jim Cantore became — a TV weatherman.
I went to “spend a day” with Bruce and was starstruck. He was so generous with his time and wisdom, even indulging my obsession with mesoscale convective complexes by answering my many questions. At the end of my day of shadowing, after he had finished the 6 PM newscast, he said, “Well, so the million dollar question is where to go to college for this career. Florida State and UCLA. But I consider FSU’s Meteorology department, with Jim O’Brien there, to be top notch.” And so it was, sunny Florida.
In Florida I would discover myself, my faith, my passion for learning, my wife, my career path.
My Confessor then said to me:
Do you think Bruce had any idea how many lives he had shaped by that one comment? For him, it was probably a throwaway piece of advice that he’s given to dozens of other weather aspirants. Yet, it was his comment that ultimately opened the door to conversion to the faith, meeting your wife, having your children, establishing friendships, a career in the church — endless effects!
Have you heard of the Butterfly Effect? It’s a physics theory that says, for example, the strength of a hurricane in the Caribbean is impacted by something as minuscule as the flapping wing of a butterfly months earlier in Panama. Never underestimate the effects your least significant acts of fidelity can have on the future world. For your every new movement, the future is filled with things that never had to be this way.
Remember, just because you don’t see the effects, you’re often tempted to despair and say: “What good is the little I do? No one notices. No one cares. It doesn’t really matter.” But it all does matter. We tend to be so myopic and narrow in our judgment on the value of everything we do. We massively undervalue what God can do with our little nothings entrusted to Him.
Think of life as ecosystem. The interdependence of everything we are about is so staggeringly complex and intricate and delicate that just one decision, one smile, one quiet “whoosh” of a sacrifice — or one harsh word — can change the course of history. For better or for ill. Your secret interior life radiates out into the whole cosmos. Even your most secret thoughts make it easier, or more difficult, for those around you to follow Christ.
Begin each day with a prayer for the Spirit to guide your thoughts, words, actions, that they will set in motion the uncountable goods He wills. Then at the end of every day entrust all to His mercy. Ask Him to forgive failures and bless successes, and untangle knots you have tied up.
On Judgment Day, one of the things we will see, through God’s eyes, is the astonishingly complex web of influence we were part of. We will be allowed to see our role in that web. Imagine seeing that!
I am convinced Jesus’ words, “I was hungry and you gave me food,” will come to us from people we’ve never met, who were not fed by us directly but by the others we impacted, who in turn fed them. Generations later in the future. Think of that next time you feel your work is insignificant. Given to grace, its impact is without borders.
When God chose Abram and Sarai, He didn’t say, “Look at the ground in front of you and think of today and your next step.” He said, “Look at the stars in the sky and try to count! ‘Countless’ is the size of impact you will have on all of history!” They gave their Yes and, holy cow, look at what’s happened! God said, “Go!”, they went, and 1800 years later, God becomes flesh. And 3800 years later, you. Me. Patti. Your children.
God’s plan is vaster than you could ever imagine, so discount the value of nothing.
Additionally amazing is that a friend, just last week, said to me, “Tom, what you are doing now for your children will fulfill their purpose in your great great grandchildren.”