Less is More: Why the Smallest Acts Melt Hearts

Little things are most likely to transform lives and save souls

Joseph Serwach
Apr 17, 2020 · 7 min read
Photo by Michelle Kosanke.

A little says a lot, and less is more. But why? Why is the big stuff taken for granted while we dwell on the smaller acts?

Dr. Tom Graves does really big things: saving countless lives over 30 years in medicine, leading missions to Haiti through HART, and organizing Catholic Men’s Fellowship. One of Tom’s (relatively) smaller acts just blew up Facebook.

Tom and CMF’s Richard Hass decided to meet on the sidewalk in front of the nearest hospital each day at 3 p.m. (the Hour of Mercy) to pray a Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet. Many Catholics pray these prayers daily.

They instead met in front of Detroit’s Ascension St. John Hospital and started marching along Moross Road(which turns into Detroit’s heavily-traveled Seven Mile Road). They started doing this daily during Holy Week when COVID-19 patient cases peaked inside the hospital.

The prayers started, and the number of cases hit a peak then began to fall. Richard put a crucifix on an old shuffleboard pole and raised it high. People joined them in person and via social media. The chain got bigger.

They moved people, who took photos and video that went viral

Nurses cried, making, and sharing their videos. Photos went viral. Strangers approached, asking for more prayer, and they filled a book with intentions.

Keith Vandenbussche, who Tom hadn’t seen since they were schoolboys 45 years ago, read about the effort and drove 50 Miles to be a part of it: “You make God smile… My niece is a doctor at St. John, and your prayers and dedication inspire me.”

“He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much,’’ (Luke 16:10, NASB).

My pastor, Father Mathias Thelen, is well-known for his considerable gifts for preaching. Thousands pack into his healing services and conferences. Parishioners have come to expect big things from him. I found myself humbled last spring when I saw him doing something I hadn’t seen before:

As the daily Mass-goers prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Father Mathias came into the pews one morning, fell on his knees, and prayed with us. We are used to seeing him on the altar or always on the go. The simple humility of the (unexpected) act of joining the flock unexpectedly humbled me.

Similarly, when our friend Ed lost his wife last fall, merely seeing him in the chapel quietly praying melted our hearts in a way that his more significant, bolder actions and life accomplishments hadn’t.

“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention,’’ — Oscar Wilde.

Richard Hass (left) and Tom Graves (right). Photo by Tom Graves.

I’m named after Joe Siwak, my Grandma Helen’s first love, someone she dated at age 17. Then they broke up.

At age 19, she met my Grandpa Edward L. Serwach, marrying him in 1941. My dad was born in December 1942, and Grandpa Ed died two years later while fighting in World War II. My Grandma Helen and Grandpa Joe found each other again in 1947. The part of the story that moves me?

My grandmother described her second husband, Joe taking my dad to visit his father’s grave, telling him always to honor his father but to remember the man who raised him too.

Then Grandma would describe Grandpa Joe falling on his knees, using his bare hands (because he didn’t have a shovel) to rip the weeds, dirt, and extra grass from around the grave of her first husband. Her eyes filled with tears remembering the humility of that moment. Such small moments stick with you.

Our daughter Jenny, similarly, is the genius/scholar of the family, getting her undergraduate and law degrees before turning 23. She’s written amazing things, but none moved me more than something she lovingly scribbled in crayon as a little girl (see below).

Catholic question: If we are made in God’s image, and He is our Father, do we similarly move Him with such humble moments of love for Him and his children?

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less,’’ — Rick Warren, “The Purpose Driven Life.’’

Why do the little things mean more?

Bill Gates, Gladwell explains, became the founder of Microsoft because Gates was the son of a successful executive enabling young Bill to spend hours on computers every day in a time when no one else had access to computers.

He got so good with computers because he simply had logged more hours on them before any of his peers.

Similarly, Gladwell notes, the Beatles became the very best band by performing eight or more hours per day every day in Hamburg, Germany pubs. So we pour all our hours into becoming great at something, yet we are remembered for a few simple moments and gestures? For praying in front of a hospital? For coloring something on a piece of notebook paper? For ripping grass from a grave?

“The Lord is willing to do great things, but on condition that we are truly humble,’’ St. Padre Pio.

Pope Francis, similarly, is best known for a few humble moments

Pope Francis’ most memorable moment? When he embraced a severely disfigured man. An agnostic woman in Italy recently wrote about becoming a believer simply because she saw Francis standing all alone in St. Peter’s Square.

Jimmy Carter moved from one-term governor of Georgia to president of the United States by visiting people across the nation, staying in their homes (instead of a hotel), getting up early and making his bed. People always remember the little things. Ronald Reagan, who unseated Carter in 1980, spent eight years winning the Cold War. He was the Great Communicator, but many best remember a few one-liner gags he shared with his doctors after being shot, humbled by an attack.

Similarly, our friend Rory Clark spent months planning our February 22 Accept the Challenge conference, which was incredibly successful and attracted more than 1,500 men. But we were just as moved or more when he asked us to take large hand-made crosses and carry them with us on a three-mile walk in the woods praying the Stations of the Cross.

Why is less more? Shorter sentences and the unexpected

The Divine Mercy Image via Wikimedia Commons.

We also remember someone cursing their displeasure. Decades of journalism research found that every word that is added to a sentence makes it more likely the information won’t be retained.

Divine Mercy Sunday is part of the legacy of conversations between Jesus and St. Maria Faustina Kowalska during the 1930s. He asked to have the Divine Mercy Image painted and venerated with a short, simple message, “Jezu Ufam Tobie,” which translates the vast Catholic faith into a few memorable words: “Jesus, I Trust in You.”

So we remember the short takeaways. But we are also moved by unexpected acts.

“God defends the humble soul and lets Himself into its secrets, and the soul abides in unsurpassable happiness which no one can comprehend,” St. Maria Faustina Kowalska.

The men of Catholic Men’s Fellowship of Grosse Pointe Farms praying for the pandemic victims. Photo courtesy of Richard Hass.

Every religion honors an influential, inspiring founder. Our Church founder humbled himself like no other, allowing himself to be tortured, humiliated, and spat upon. Resurrection, similarly, wasn’t a big spectacle but was shared quietly. And those humble, quiet words were shared for 2,000 years.

Bishop Robert Barron notes Jesus returns with two small and humble gestures that were never forgotten:

  1. He shows his wounds to his followers.
  2. He says, “Shalom” or “Peace be with you.”

“In this, he opens up a new spiritual world and thereby becomes our Savior,’’ Barron writes. “From ancient creation myths to the Rambo and Dirty Harry movies, the principle is the same: order, destroyed through violence, is restored through a righteous exercise of greater violence. The terrible disorder of the cross (the killing of the Son of God) is addressed not through an explosion of divine vengeance but through a radiation of divine love.”

Left: It’s the little acts of love you remember: A handwritten assignment my daughter made as a little girl remains one of my most cherished pieces of paper. Right: Our friends carrying their own crosses to pray the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday 2020. Photos from Serwach collection.

Catholic Way Home

The Way, the Truth and the Life

Joseph Serwach

Written by

Story + Identity = Mission. Author, Writer: Journalism, Leadership Culture, Communications, Religion, Education, History. Inspiration: Catholic, Polish.

Catholic Way Home

The first Christians were called The Way: They found a way to live and follow Home.

Joseph Serwach

Written by

Story + Identity = Mission. Author, Writer: Journalism, Leadership Culture, Communications, Religion, Education, History. Inspiration: Catholic, Polish.

Catholic Way Home

The first Christians were called The Way: They found a way to live and follow Home.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store