The more I thought about it the more I realized that much of life seems to be made up of doing little chores that we have to keep doing over and over again. I know that there are people who never make up their bed, perhaps for that very reason. Seeing the futility of it makes them think it is a useless exercise. But that same reasoning could be applied to an awful lot of the chores that take up our time. Will we just give up on all of them?
I gained some perspective from something Admiral William McRaven said in his classic commencement speech at the University of Texas last year. He was a US Navy Seal for 36 years and prior to his retirement from the Navy had served as the commander of US Special Operations Command. In his speech he said that his Seal training was a lifetime of lessons crammed into nine months. He discussed a number of those life lessons. Oddly, one of those had to do with making a bed.
He said that every morning during Seal training the instructors would come into the barracks and inspect the students’ beds. They were expected to be perfectly made. It seemed absurd. These students were training to become some of the preeminent warriors in the world. Why would the instructors care about how they made their beds? McRaven said, “if you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will turn into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that that little things in life matter.”
Little things matter. That is a significant point. Excellence generally consists of paying attention to the little things, the details, and doing them well. Being one of the best warriors in the world requires paying attention to the details! There is something of a parallel in law enforcement. It is called the broken window theory. The idea is that abandoned buildings with broken windows and graffiti covered walls communicate to people that there is no order in that community and actually encourage lawlessness. This theory has proven to be true. It is another way of saying that it is important to pay attention to the little things. When I thought about it I realized that an unmade bed in the room affects me. It gives a sense of disorder and sloppiness. That kind of disorder can begin to affect how I think and act. It can encourage a sloppiness in the way I think and live.
My musings really aren’t about making up my bed. Yes, that started me thinking, but what I’m really thinking about is the fact that little things matter. Most of life is made up of the mundane and the minute. Most of my days are filled with tasks that are far from monumental in their significance. And yet a life lived well consists mostly of doing little things well over and over again. This is actually encouraging for it says to me that all the little things that I must do actually have meaning. They add up to something greater than the sum of the parts. They add up to a life that can be lived to the glory of God by doing all the little things to the best of my ability.
So I guess the point of all of this really isn’t that we all ought to make up our beds every day. The point is that there is an awful lot in life that might seem small and insignificant. But all of those little tasks added together mean something. My life and all the little things it consists of actually have meaning. And of course at the end of the day we can always take heart from one last thing that Admiral McRaven said about making your bed. He said that if you have a miserable day you will come home to a bed that is made, one that you made, and that will give you encouragement that tomorrow might be a better day.