Work through Large Problems in Small, Daily Bites

Asking God for our daily bread, rather than our weekly, monthly, or yearly bread, is also a way to focus us on the smaller, more manageable bits of a problem. To deal with something very big, we may need to work at it in small, daily bites. Sometimes all we can handle is one day (or even just part of one day) at a time. Let me give you a nonscriptural example.

A book I read recently, titled Lone Survivor, recounts the tragic story of a four-man team of U.S. Navy SEALs on a covert mission in a remote sector of Afghanistan five and one-half years ago. When they were inadvertently discovered by shepherds—two men and a boy—these specially trained Navy servicemen had a choice either to kill the two or let them go, knowing that if they let them live they would disclose the team’s location and they would be attacked immediately by al Qaeda and Taliban forces. Nevertheless, they let the innocent shepherds go, and in the firefight that followed, only the author, Marcus Luttrell, survived against well over 100 attackers.
In his book, Luttrell recounts the extreme training and endurance required for one to qualify as a SEAL in the U.S. Navy. In Luttrell’s training group, for example, of the 164 men who began, only 32 managed to complete the course. They endured weeks of near-constant physical exertion, in and out of cold ocean water, swimming, paddling and carrying inflatable boats, running in sand, doing hundreds of push-ups a day, carrying logs through obstacle courses, and so forth. They were in a near-perpetual state of exhaustion.
I was impressed by something a senior officer said to the group as they began the final and most demanding phase of their training.
“First of all,” he said, “I do not want you to give in to the pressure of the moment. Whenever you’re hurting bad, just hang in there. Finish the day. Then, if you’re still feeling bad, think about it long and hard before you decide to quit. Second, take it one day at a time. One [phase] at a time.
“Don’t let your thoughts run away with you, don’t start planning to bail out because you’re worried about the future and how much you can take. Don’t look ahead to the pain. Just get through the day, and there’s a wonderful career ahead of you.”
Generally it is good to try to anticipate what is coming and prepare to deal with it. At times, however, this captain’s counsel is wise: “Take it one day at a time. … Don’t look ahead to the pain. Just get through the day.” To worry about what is or may be coming can be debilitating. It can paralyze us and make us quit.
In the 1950s my mother survived radical cancer surgery, but difficult as that was, the surgery was followed with dozens of painful radiation treatments in what would now be considered rather primitive medical conditions. She recalls that her mother taught her something during that time that has helped her ever since: “I was so sick and weak, and I said to her one day, ‘Oh, Mother, I can’t stand having 16 more of those treatments.’ She said, ‘Can you go today?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, honey, that’s all you have to do today.’ It has helped me many times when I remember to take one day or one thing at a time.”
The Spirit can guide us when to look ahead and when we should just deal with this one day, with this one moment. If we ask, the Lord will let us know through the Holy Ghost when it may be appropriate for us to apply in our lives the commandment He gave His ancient Apostles: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient is the day unto the evil thereof” (3 Nephi 13:34; see also Matthew 6:34).

God’s “Daily Bread” Is Needed in Reaching Our Potential

I have suggested that asking for and receiving daily bread at God’s hand plays a vital part in learning to trust God and in enduring life’s challenges. We also need a daily portion of divine bread to become what we must become. To repent, improve, and eventually reach “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13), as Paul expressed it, is a step-by-step process. Incorporating new and wholesome habits into our character or overcoming bad habits or addictions most often means an effort today followed by another tomorrow, and then another, perhaps for many days, even months and years, until victory is achieved. But we can do it because we can appeal to God for our daily bread, for the help we need each day.
This is the season of New Year’s resolutions, and I would like to quote to you the words of President N. Eldon Tanner, formerly a counselor in the First Presidency: “As we reflect on the value of resolving to do better, let us determine to discipline ourselves to carefully select the resolutions we make, to consider the purpose for making them, and finally, to make commitments for keeping them and not letting any obstacle stop us. Let us remind ourselves at the beginning of each day that we can keep a resolution just for that day. As we do this it gets easier and easier until it becomes a habit.”
A little over a year ago, Elder David A. Bednar spoke about consistency in simple daily practices such as family prayer, scripture study, and home evenings as being crucial in building successful families. Consistent effort in seemingly small, daily steps is a key principle in achieving any great work, including progress in the pathway of discipleship. As an object lesson, Elder Bednar compared daily acts to individual brushstrokes in a painting that together, over time, produce a work of art. He said:
“In my office is a beautiful painting of a wheat field. The painting is a vast collection of individual brushstrokes—none of which in isolation is very interesting or impressive. In fact, if you stand close to the canvas, all you can see is a mass of seemingly unrelated and unattractive streaks of yellow and gold and brown paint. However, as you gradually move away from the canvas, all of the individual brushstrokes combine together and produce a magnificent landscape of a wheat field. …
“… Just as the yellow and gold and brown strokes of paint complement each other and produce an impressive masterpiece, so our consistency in doing seemingly small things can lead to significant spiritual results. ‘Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great’ (D&C 64:33).”3
President Ezra Taft Benson, speaking of repentance, gave this counsel:
“We must be careful, as we seek to become more and more [Christlike], that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant, as it were: Alma the Younger, Paul on the road to Damascus, Enos praying far into the night, King Lamoni. Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.
“But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. …
“We must not lose hope. Hope is an anchor to the souls of men. Satan would have us cast away that anchor. In this way he can bring discouragement and surrender. But we must not lose hope. The Lord is pleased with every effort, even the tiny, daily ones in which we strive to be more like Him.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, CES Fireside January 9, 2011

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