“We will never make a journey of a thousand miles by fretting about how long it will take or how hard it will be. We make the journey by taking each day step by step and then repeating it again and again until we reach our destination.” -Joseph B. Wirthlin
Life passes one day at a time. The sun rises by the hour. An hour passes by the minute. Minutes fly by in seconds. Walls are built by the brick and distances are travelled by the mile and miles by the step.
Life, in fact, is all about taking next steps.
Progress and improvement, goals, repentance and our very discipleship are about the nature and direction of those steps. We talk about the covenant path. Christ reminds us that He is the Way. He invites us to come, follow Him. We enter in at the gate and travel the straight and narrow on our metaphorical Road to Damascus.
All such phrases imply steps, incremental progress, a gradual process of growth and improvement. Where you or I find ourselves along the covenant path matters much less than whether we are striving to take the next step from wherever we happen to be at the moment.
The Widow’s Mite
In the lesson of the widow’s mite, Jesus taught that the poor widow offering her two mites (worth only a few cents) put more into the treasury than the much larger donations from the rich who added only from their surplus wealth.
In other words, the absolute amount seems to matter less than the degree. What the poor widow gave was more than the rich by comparison to what each had to give.
Similarly, your stride along the covenant path may be the equivalent to the widow’s mite in length, but may likewise be a treasury of gold to the Lord who looks on the heart and knows the reality of our lives, the limits of our abilities and the histories and circumstances no one else but He and you know about.
So if you find yourself on a spiritual plateau, flat-lined, empty and stuck, my call to you today is not to revolutionize your life. It’s not to start all over again or leap forward in a giant Saul-like change, doing everything that can be done. It’s to simply choose a single area of your life that needs improvement (every one of us has many such areas), and just take one step in that direction.
What Doesn’t Really Matter…
It doesn’t matter how many different steps could be taken. It doesn’t matter how far behind you are from where you think you should have already been or where you perceive others are. All that really matters is that you identify the needed step and that you take it, no matter how small that step needs to be to get yourself moving. Baby steps are still steps forward, after all!
Ultimately, it doesn’t even matter how many times you’ve tripped and fallen, wandered off course, rejected the path itself, pretended it wasn’t there, disbelieved in its reality or intentionally ran straight into the mists of darkness in a rebellious spit in the eye.
None of that matters in the end. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow hasn’t come. Today awaits. The only thing that matters is that you are here today, looking down the road, figuring out where to place your next step, wanting to follow Christ.
Our incremental improvement isn’t about becoming acceptable to the Lord (He already accepts you) or qualifying for blessings (you can’t anyway) or averting celestial punishment. It’s about loving Christ and Heavenly Father and wanting to show that love by taking steps toward them.
Just Take the Step
So from wherever you are today, take a step. Just one. Even if just nudging your little toe forward along the covenant path is all you can muster for now in your discipleship. Even if no one else can see your improvement or growth, your repentance, the lessons learned or your spiritual stretch, the very act of leaning in the right direction is a success nonetheless.
Perhaps it is finally confessing a secret sin, or apologizing for an offense, enrolling in an anger management course, forgiving a grudge you’ve held onto, praying if you normally don’t, or reading scripture if you haven’t for a while. Whatever your next step is, now is the time to take it.
So don’t worry where you’ve been, how long you’ve been there, how far off-road you’ve gone or how hard it is to be consistently moving in the right direction all the time. Just take the step.
Then, when you trip, stumble and fall, move back three spaces or face plant on the sidewalk of your life, just know that it’s all fairly irrelevant to the greater concern knowing that if you fall back three spaces this week, but get up and step forward 4, that’s still progress worthy of celebration.
The Prominent Sound in Heaven
Remember the parable of the prodigal son. What did his father do when his wayward son came back after riotously losing all his inheritance in his prodigal life of sin? He threw his arms around his neck and then threw him a party. He celebrated his return, his new direction and the steps he took to come back.
Note what is glaringly not part of that parable. The father did not question him about motives or sincerity, about how much he squandered or the degrees of sin he committed or levels of true repentance he displayed over what duration of time. He just loved and celebrated his son.
That, I’m convinced, is what our Heavenly Father does too. I believe the prominent sounds in Heaven are not tearful groans for the sins of the world; they are shouts of joy for every time someone takes a better step today than yesterday.
No Straight Lines
The truth is that life is not a straight line from birth through all the covenantal markers along the straight and narrow path to exaltation and eternal life for anyone.
No, life looks a lot more like a stock market line graph with zigs and zags, peaks and toughs, surges and crashes, ups and downs. But if you look at any 10-30 year period of time, the general direction, the trend-line, the trajectory is up, even though interrupted by periods of recession and depression.
The stock market is not the only place of volatility. Life and our progress through it has its fair share as well. That’s why Heavenly Father sent us His Son to lend His stability to our volatility, His immortality to our mortality and His perfection to our imperfection.
Next Time you Fall
So look down the road of your life and ask yourself these questions: Am I on the right path? Am I moving forward? Am I learning? Am I growing? What, then, is my next best step? How can I best take that step?
Once the answers to those questions have been identified, shift your weight forward to your lead leg and lean into your personal growth, not as an expression of shame driven by self-contempt, but as an expression of gratitude and love for God, Christ, their gospel and yourself.
And just remember that your Heavenly Father is there to guide you and your Savior Jesus Christ is there to pick you back up the next time you misstep and stumble along the way.
Photo from Pixaby