I read a fascinating article this morning from the Associated Press entitled “US finally giving boot to official foot measurement.”
It seems that, for many years, there have been two different ways to define precisely how long a foot is. There’s the international foot, and the U.S. survey foot. The difference is infinitesimally small: it only makes an eighth of an inch difference over the distance of a mile.
You might be thinking, “Big deal. Who cares?”
The problem is that some surveyors and contractors use the U.S. foot, and some use the international foot. And on some projects, that can make a difference.
“A contractor from a state that uses the U.S. foot planned a building in the glide path of a major airport in a state that uses the international foot,” the AP article reports, relaying a story from Michael Dennis, a project manager for NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey. “The confusion over the two different feet caused delays, extra cost and redesign of the building to be one floor shorter.”
And how is it that we came to have two different definitions of what equals a foot?
“In 1893,” the AP article says, “the U.S. government defined a foot as 1,200 meters divided by 3,937. Plug those numbers into a calculator and you get 0.3048006 meters. Those last three digits (and it goes on even longer if you want to be technical) are important.”
It seems that when the international foot was created a few decades later, they rounded that number down a little bit, dropping off the final “006.”
And that was enough to set up the problem.
All of this is a good reminder that sometimes the small stuff really does matter. Sometimes that’s because the small stuff adds up over time, and sometimes it’s because the small stuff isn’t really so small after all.
And think about it: we spend most of our lives dealing with things that seem small. Yes, there are the grand moments and the big decisions. But most of the time, we live moment by moment, one small decision after another. If we mess up in the realm of the small, it’s going to matter.
Here are a few areas where we should pay attention to the little things in our lives.
We speak thousands of words a day. Words are small and free, easily thrown out—but impossible to take back. The Bible tells us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 8:21). James reminds us that the tongue is small, but it can cause enormous damage (James 3:5).
Words can build up, or they can tear down. They can encourage our children or defeat them. They can make our spouse feel loved or rejected.
God cares about the words we use. In fact, in a sobering statement, Jesus tells us we will give account to God for every idle word we speak (Matthew 12:36).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t use encouraging words often enough. This is an area I want to grow. I want to be an encourager to my family. I want to be known as someone who is thoughtful and uplifting with the words I speak.
I don’t mean our testimony of salvation, but the overall testimony of our lives—how we live in front of others, the reputation we have, and the impression we’re giving of our God and His people.
We can destroy our testimony in a matter of moments, and it doesn’t always take something big to do it. I remember a message a former pastor of mine preached years ago on Ecclesiastes 10:1: “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.”
In other words, dead flies are small, but they’ll ruin the fragrance of a precious ointment or perfume. In the same way, it doesn’t take much foolishness to ruin the reputation of someone who is known for wisdom and honor.
There are many ways to ruin a marriage, and many of them start out small. For instance, few husbands or wives would wake up one morning and decide to commit adultery out of the clear blue sky. But by a hundred small steps, many have ended up there. Stop taking the small steps, and the major failure wouldn’t happen.
Whether it’s gradual neglect, lapsed expressions of love, or creeping selfishness, there are many “small” ways we can plant the seeds of an unhappy—or failed—marriage.
Small Can Be Good or Bad
The truth is, it’s not just the small bad stuff we should pay attention to. Yes, those things can negatively impact our lives when they accumulate, lead to larger failures, or when we simply tolerate them when we know we shouldn’t. But the flip side is also true. Good habits—even small ones—can make a positive difference. I think it’s true that if we’ll simply be faithful in the small things of our lives, we’ll avoid a lot of the bigger headaches.
Is there something small you should—or shouldn’t—do today? Remember, you never know the impact of a small word or deed. The small stuff really does matter.
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