The Rest of the Square Inch

square inch with heartMany years ago when starting out as a public Christian, I had visions of changing the world. It didn’t seem like a ridiculous hope, if only because my first book had sold well in the U.S. and the U.K. and had been translated into six languages. So I was riding high, on the road to changing the world for God.

But soon I realized I couldn’t change the world. So I took a more humble stance: I’ll just change my nation instead. But then I realized that I couldn’t change America, so, wise guy that I am, I lowered my sights further: I can change my state. But then I realized I couldn’t change Michigan. So I wised up a little more: if I can’t change my state, I’ll change my city, Detroit. After all, we’ve got a ton of problems here.

Failing to get any traction down that road, I was getting desperate. After all, I had lowered my sights considerably. Maybe God was trying to tell me something. But what that was, I didn’t know.

Then it hit me: I’ve got it! If I can’t change the city, I can change my church. On reflection, of course, that was dumb idea. It’s not my church, it’s God’s. So I said: well, at least I can change my family. Right. That didn’t work either. So I said: I can change my wife. (When you’re done laughing, read on.) After getting over that painful move, I wondered how much smaller I could shrink my vision of change. If I couldn’t change the world or the nation or the state or the city or my church or my family or my friends or my wife, what else was there? What other area was there?

I did entertain some notions of changing myself. But that, too, was ridiculous. Although there were ways in which I had changed some things about myself, and othere things I could and should still do, I knew enough about myself as a sinner and what the Bible teaches about any notion of self-redemption to know that it’s a futile project.

What, then, could I do? Apparently, I couldn’t change anything! Yet that was the disillusionment God had been driving for in my heart. I remember praying: God, I can’t change the world or the nation or even my family, friends, or wife. Or even myself. I don’t have a vision of change any more. It’s hopeless. What’s going on?

You can change your square inch. That’s the answer that immediately popped into my spirit, and with it came understanding. I saw all the varied and diverse relationships that I had, near and far, with people I knew and did not know, and I saw that if I was willing God would give me grace and wisdom to change things for the better in those “square inches,” those realms of relationships. I no longer had to fuss and moan about changing the world, or Michigan, or my city, or my church, or my family, or myself. But if I myself cooperated with God’s grace and wisdom in whatever situtation I happened to be in, at any given moment and wherever in the world it was, I would be changing something for the good in my “square inch.”

This insight about what could actually be changed changed my understanding of both pubic and private Christian life and ministry. I already knew that it was about relationships. But now I had much more clarity about what that meant.

What does this mean in practice? Here’s some thoughts. We each have our own square inches, and their size varies all the time. They may be large or small, nearby or far away, with persons we know or don’t know. It depends on what we are doing and where we are at any particular time. And those realms of relationships and what is taking place in them are not static but dynamic, changing in any number of ways. Further, God is with us in those realms with grace and wisdom, and this means that changes can be made for the good.

Your square inch at any given time may be sitting on the couch with a child, or standing in a long, slow-moving queue of irritable shoppers, or working with an ornery boss. It may be may be talking on the phone with an old friend across the country, or sitting at a table with seven others at a wedding reception dinner, or in a moment of decision about what to post on Facebook or to comment on there. In other words, the sizes and situations of your square inches will always be different, depending on what’s going. But God will be there in them with you with grace and wisdom on offer for changing something for the better, and for making the already-good ever gooder.

But there are other considerations. Typically, a Christian’s square inches include  relationships and situations like those I’ve mentioned. But besides those, the square inches of some Christian man and women are a much larger pulpit for the grace and wisdom of Jesus to make a change. Some are pastors. Some are in classrooms teaching. Some run businesses. Some direct NGOs. Some sit on library boards. Some, like yours truly, write books, or get interviewed on the radio, or work in the field of diplomacy and negotiations.

My point is that in any given situation or context, one’s square inch, or realm of relationship, might entail reaching a congregation, a classroom, a city, or even a national audience.

Faced with the frequency and extent of suffering and injustice in the world, we can get overwhelmed with a sense of powerlessness. It seems futile to attempt to do anything about it – even though as responsible citizens and individuals we would like to change the world. The square inch rule, however, offers us rest from trying to change the world. We can’t change it. Christ has already changed it.

We can have a hand in changing one life at a time. We all know what our square inches are. No one needs to tell us that. And we know, or at least we have a pretty good idea of, what square inches may be on the horizon, at least in the near future. So instead of feeling disillusioned by a vision that is too big for us to handle, here’s an idea. Let’s focus on bringing God’s grace and wisdom into our existing realms of relationships so that we can partner with what Jesus is already doing in those relationships to change them for the better. And let’s start with our own square inch with Jesus.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Top images by istvanberta (permission via Creative Commons).