The Little Man – Introductory Thoughts on Faith and my Father
November 17, 2017
by Andy Littleton
About a year ago I started writing a little about my dad and Christian faith. I knew I wouldn’t share it during his lifetime as it would have made him very uncomfortable. Little did I know how soon Jesus would call my dad to be with him in paradise (11/14/17). I plan to revisit my writing about him sometime in the next year, but for now I thought I’d share this fairly unedited 1st chapter of sorts that I wrote a few months ago. Maybe it will help you understand the man I’m thinking and talking about so much right now. I’d love to know if you’d like to hear more thoughts like this down the road. – Andy
My father grew up feeling very small. Son of Augusta Scott Littleton, whose parents died when he was young, who went off to war…and attempted to erase his identity thereafter. When he arrived in Bisbee, Arizona, it was under the name Leroy Scott Littleton. No one knew of his past, not even my grandmother. His disdain for himself, his desire to obliterate himself, was poured out upon his namesake, my father, who was belittled and berated. The object of many a drunken rage. Engrained in my father’s mind were the words “stupid”, “ugly” and “nobody”…whether from the mouth of his father, or from the perpetual inner voice that sounded awfully akin to his father’s. The words that I would one day, unaware of his story, hurl at him as well.
If there was one phrase that my father used to describe himself, that I’ve never forgotten, it’s “the little man”. And always in the negative. There were the big men…those with power, money, and brains. Then there were the little men. The half-wits, the “broke”, the ugly…like us.
I always rebelled against his appraisal of himself. On the one hand, I simply didn’t want it to be true of him, and by extension I suppose, true of me. On the other hand, I knew he was selling himself far too short. The evidence for that belief was easy to find, in fact it was inescapable, for my father was beloved. From time to time, he would take me to work with him at the lumber yard, when I was a kid. Everybody seemed to love him. His co-workers, the bosses, the guys in the hardware store, the “yard dogs”, the millwrights, and the customers. Growing up, I always wished that he saw in himself, what everyone else saw in him. I pushed so hard against his self-appraisal that when he urged me to go to college so I wouldn’t be “like him”, I determinedly entered the workforce to prove that being “like him” was admirable.
As I’ve grown and become a man myself, I’ve battled with my feelings about my father. Undoubtedly, my self-doubt and low self-esteem are an inheritance. But on the other hand, I’m continually grateful for his legacy. A legacy that I’ve discovered, so few men receive. I’ve read a lot of books on being a man. In my line of work, I’ve been a part of many events promoting healthy masculinity. What I’ve noticed is, that most of the events platform some sort of macho man. A man who exhibits great confidence and conviction, strength and resolve. My father exhibited none of those things. He was on nobody’s list, to be featured in the next men’s conference. Yet, he left an indelible mark upon the world, that I’m not sure he recognized at all.
Interestingly, in my line of work, I’ve also seen many “great men” fall. But not my father. I saw him rise (As I write this, my eyes are filled with tears). I saw my father continue in his convictions. I watched him draw increasingly closer to my mom. I watched him grow increasingly content. I saw his impact on others increase as he’s moved from being a middle-aged man, to an elder in his workplace and community. I’ve witnessed faith grow within him.
I want to share with you, what I’ve seen in my father. Why? Because it may help lead you onto a path worth walking.
Being a “little man” may be the best possible aim. Consider one of the most influential men of all time, whom you’d know as “the apostle” Paul. A man with two personas, two names. Saul, a given name perhaps, a Hebrew name, meaning “asked for” or “prayed for”. And Paul, a name more suited for his Roman citizenship, which meant “little”. After his rise to religious and political power, he was known primarily as Saul, and how fitting? After an encounter with the risen Son of God, on the road to Damascus, the subsequent collapse of everything he’d endeavored to live for, and his new conviction that he must tell those outside of Israel about the Son of God who brought him to his knees, he becomes primarily known as Paul.
Was it merely because Paul was more linguistically fitting for those with whom he came to live and work among? That may be part of it. But it is clear in his writing, that it was also due to his accepting of the identity that the name Paul carried…smallness…weakness. In a somewhat self deprecating pun, Paul refers to himself as the “least of the apostles”…the little one among them. He felt compelled by God to lead, and speak publicly. The trouble was, it was his weakness. He often had to defend his work against a host of more interesting and convincing public speakers. And what was his ultimate defense? It was that God chooses to use “the weak”, in order that God might be seen as great, and not merely the man who speaks of God.
Paul had the whole of redemptive history to prove his point. God had always done great things in, among, and for the weak people of the world. Moses, an abandoned slave child, cowardly, “slow of speech”, was God’s chosen deliverer of Israel in the Old Testament. He was particularly suited to meet with God, and deliver his truths to the people. David, the runt of his family, was the man who God called to be Israel’s greatest king. It was he, who had the inner qualities of heart, that qualified him to trust in God, and lead God’s people.
Of course Paul knew that Moses, David, and himself were riddled with crippling weaknesses that kept them from being all that humanity would long for in a leader. Moses’ obedience to God would lapse. David’s heart would wander after “lover less wild” all too often. Paul was riddled by irritating imperfection, like a “thorn in the flesh”. But Paul had seen something ultimate, that had solidified his understanding that God uses things that we consider weak and small.
Paul, had been aware of an obscure Jewish man of ignoble upbringing. A laborers son, from a Roman garrison town called Nazareth, in which the Jewish people served the Romans and were despised. This man had nothing in his appearance that drew people to him. He was despised. Many rejected him. He would eventually undergo a most humiliating demise, which included what seemed like ultimate weakness exposed. He was hung up naked on a cross of wood for all to see, as they approach the city gates. There he breathed his last, crying out in anguish. Paul as Saul, had taken the role of tracking down people who thought this man the rightful king, and exterminating them.
That man, was the man, who Paul saw amidst blinding light on his way to the city of Damascus. When Paul asked him who he was, he heard “I am Jesus who you are persecuting”. And Paul would never be the same. For Paul, saw that God had exalted the weakest man he’d heard of. The one who he thought had been strung up in shambles, had been raised up triumphant by God, and given glory, power, and authority. He came to understand that God had become incarnate and weak, in order to accomplish the most noble and powerful endeavor ever witnessed on earth. The reconciliation of mankind to its creator, through sacrificial love. From then on, Paul saw smallness and weakness in another light.
I have seen the same…in Paul, in Jesus whom we Christians call the Christ (the Savior of the world), in the so-called heroes of old, and in my father. I hope that you might see it too. So I’d offer some characteristics that are all too often overlooked, that God has allowed me to observe in my father, in hopes that we might come to value weakness and smallness. Not that we would be depressed under them, but that we would grasp the glory that can be conveyed through one who is weak and small, by a God who “exalts the humble” for his name’s sake.