Dreaming Big, Living Small


Dreaming Big, Living Small. Photo credit: Suus Wansink

I am a dreamer, and I dream big.

I’ve always wanted to live a dramatic story, to Do Something Big For God! Make an impact! Change the World! Build the Kingdom!!! – and other slogans that require multiple exclamation marks at the end.

So many are writing these days about the finding joy in the everyday, and deciding to celebrate living small. It’s a fashionable theme, and has resonated with many.

Unfortunately, I’m the exception. I confess whenever someone writes something about ‘living small’, my reaction is strong and immediate: I hate it. It feels so parochial, self-indulgent to focus on the here and now and me rather than the others, the world and the future.

For the past six years, however, I have been forced to live small. An autoimmune illness has rendered me housebound, in bed for for 21 hours a day. For the first eighteen months, I had very little contact with the outside world; sometimes it felt like my Facebook status posts were the only evidence I could give that I was still alive.

When ‘living small’ looks like one beige room, staggering to the toilet and back to bed, it doesn’t sound quite so fun.


After I came to terms with the fact that my life had changed, writing and social media became a lifeline for me. I could still dream big, I could still make an impact, I could still campaign and Change the World.

Even though I know (I promise, I do!) that I’m not the Saviour of the Universe, part of me still believes it is still good to dream big, and have a desire to change the world. We need the prophets, the campaigners, the activists, the leaders. There is so much that is wrong with the world, and change only comes through people who have the courage to take a stand. I still want to be that person.

The only trouble is this: living big is exhausting. Campaigning for change feels like an exercise in futility. Some of us have big hearts, but the sorrows of the whole world are too heavy for anyone to carry. If we aren’t careful, we implode from the weight of it all.

This is what I wrestle with: what if our hearts still dream big, when we are forced to live small? If I give up my drive to Make a Difference, will this bring peace to me, or will I lose the essence of my character? Societal change always comes through people being prepared to sacrifice of themselves – but when is it too costly? How much do you sacrifice of yourself to achieve your dream?


Last month, I escaped to sunny Greece for two weeks. I lived small. I watched bold pink flowers in the breeze, and down at the beach I slowed my breath down to the rhythm of the waves as they lapped the shore. I focused on my son. We read Enid Blyton books. We watched the ants wrestle, and giggled as we saw them stealing wasps’ eggs, all in their neat rows. I lived small, focusing on my body and its needs, resting and eating, and watching the beautiful world.

I have to admit, it felt marvellous.


The biographies of world-changers can be inspiring yet unhelpful. A written story necessarily excludes all the banalities, so we just read one dramatic event, one breakthrough after another. We lose the fact that it takes years to get to that point. We don’t read of the hours they spent sleeping, or preparing meals, working, reading, laughing with friends, walking, fixing broken windows, comforting crying children.

My mind goes to St Paul, preacher extraordinaire, who helped establish the first church and bring Christianity to new nations. I remember that Paul was also a tentmaker. In between those dramatic speeches and visiting churches, his life looked a little boring. He did not spend all his time in travel, speaking, reading, praying, mentoring. A huge bulk of his time was spent in the mundane and routine, in stitching and mending.

I pause and imagine him doing that, day after day. I find my breathing slows, just a little.

I dream big, but I’m learning to live small. Much of the time you’re frustrated at what you’re not doing and not achieving – this is what learning patience feels like.

I’m learning to find meaning in the mundane. Living small is a new discipline for me, to slow down my rhythm to the limits of my body. You discover (again) that you simply can’t produce all you want, and can’t live at the pace you admire in other successful people.

I’m still wrestling with it, but sometimes in the midst of the hours of looking at the ceiling, I remember that I am not the saviour of the universe, and that even the Messiah spent much of his life sanding down timber, wiping the sawdust from His forehead.

Over to you: 

  • Do you live your life in the ‘here and now’ or in the ‘then and there’? 
  • In which ways have you been forced to ‘live small’? 


Tanya Marlow
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