Humans are not good at understanding large numbers. When a politician starts talking in billions I cannot grasp or imagine what it looks like.
Sometimes people try to create word pictures for such large quantities in the hope that this will somehow help us grasp it. Some of these are ludicrous! I am not helped by being told that something is 100 times the volume of Sydney Harbour or 10,000 Olympic swimming pools. Sorry, it does not compute for this simple brain. The scientists tell us that our problem with really big numbers is due to our evolution as people who lived in small tribal groups. We are good at dealing with numbers up to 100 and maybe by extension we can imagine 10 lots of 100, or even 100 lots of 100. But much more than that and we are verging on maxing out our imagination. When people from earlier ages talked of big numbers they may have talked of the ants, the sand of the desert or the sea shore, or maybe even the stars in the night sky.
So it is that when Jesus tells his disciples to do something about feeding the huge crowd that had followed him into the countryside he does so in a quite specific way that helps them deal with the enormity of the task.
Firstly, he does not tell them to solve the problem. He tells them to do something, “You give them something to eat.”
Secondly, he tells them to get organised. “Sit them down in groups of 50”. We now have manageable groups who are not all milling around.
Thirdly, start with what you have. Focus on the positive rather than the negative. “We have 5 loaves and 2 fish.” rather than “We don’t have anywhere near enough. We would need 6 month’s salary to buy enough food.”
It is beyond the ability of any one person to win a football game. In fact no modern coach sends the team out with the instruction to win the game. Winning is beyond their control. Winning, if it happens, will come because they each performed their role. I laugh how management speak has become so prevalent in the mouths of simple footballers, “We just have to get our processes right”. Each player needs to perform the role the coach has asked them to do. 400 game veteran Brett Harvey of North Melbourne was recently dropped from the side, not because he wasn’t getting enough kicks, but because he too often tried to win the game himself rather than playing his part in the overall team plan.
There are many things in life that are too big for us to tackle. Relationships that have become entrenched with conflict and negative communication do not easily change. Getting fit, losing weight, changing career, paying off a mortgage or becoming a happier person are worthy goals, but we cannot directly address such large, non-specific goals. What we can do is walk each day, eat a little less and better each day, learn something new each day, make our regular payments, and look for the good in life and others. That is do something, get organised, and start with what you can do. The longest journey starts with a single step. When we take that step, it is amazing what miracles can happen along the way.