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One of the most profound truths I’ve learned from Dr. Karyn Purvis and other experts on child development is this: virtually everything a baby experiences shapes them.
Eye contact, touch, mirroring of facial expressions, gracious words, tender touch…OR their absence—all these things are continually forming the person a baby will become, whether for good or ill.
What we often don’t realize is that this process of being formed by small things continues through all of life. Although less explosively than when we were infants, adults too are being shaped by every choice we make, whether for good or ill.
Like water droplets running down a hill, carving certain rivulets ever deeper, the small decisions we make are continually forming us.
Columnist David Brooks this week offers a brilliant article on this theme and its implications for how we choose to serve others, titled “The Way to Produce a Person.” Brooks is always insightful, and this is some of his best. He describes:
…[T]he brain is a malleable organ. Every time you do an activity, or have a thought, you are changing a piece of yourself into something slightly different than it was before. Every hour you spend with others, you become more like the people around you. Gradually, you become a different person. If there is a large gap between your daily conduct and your core commitment, you will become more like your daily activities and less attached to your original commitment.
There are countless implications of understanding this.
Most importantly, we must realize that the biggest choices we make are often the “small” ones: our habitual thoughts, the glances of our eyes, paying attention to or ignoring people on the margins, being present to others or distracted.
This truth also helps us see how—as we so often emphasize on this blog—love for orphans transforms us. This is especially true when we love vulnerable children so in ways that bring them into the spaces and moments of our daily lives—through fostering, adopting, mentoring, Safe Families and the like.
That certainly doesn’t mean it is not very helpful to send checks, write blogs and otherwise try to help from a distance. It is! But if that is all we do, it can have a corrosive influence on our character; it can make us the kind of person that cares about “issues” in the abstract but is unable to bear the real costs of love amidst daily interactions. In contrast, every choice to sacrifice convenience, comfort and control—even a very small choice—slowly shapes us into a person that’s a little bit more like Jesus every day.
As we love a child in small, daily, mostly-unheralded choices, we are being remade into a person who grows a little bit more like Jesus every day.
The next-to-final chapter in the book UPENDED is titled “The Biggest Decisions We’ll Ever Make.” That’s what these little choices are. “…From the global to the person, change comes not in a single majestic victory but via myriad small choices…”