Saturday, March 6, 2010

One Day at a Time

Twelve step programs like AA use the phrase "One Day at a Time" to remind their participants that change comes in small bits, and that when confronting addiction (or co-dependence, in the case of family support groups like Families Anonymous or Al Anon), a long time horizon is not a good thing.

Contrast that to our gospel perspective. So much of what we do in the church has a very long time horizon. "Eternity is a long time," my old stake president used to say. And yet, I think we have something to learn from One Day at a Time.

Repentance is the second principle of the gospel, right behind faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (without which repentance would be futile). I have asserted more than once on this blog that one of the great and awesome blessings of the atonement is the opportunity we have to change for the better. Not just to overcome grievous sin (some many never commit grievous sin, thank goodness), but just to improve from day to day.

For an addict or a co-dependent person, signing up for a lifetime of change may be overwhelming, even impossible. And so learning to recommit oneself each day to principles of change associated with overcoming those addictions makes a lot of sense. Even as I type this sentence, I think about our practice of recommitting ourselves weekly to our baptismal covenant via the sacrament. The weekly participation in the sacrament is there not only as a remind of our Savior's physical sacrifice (which is incredible), but also recommits us to live by the covenants we've made.

Twelve step programs rely on the strength of a Higher Power, "God as we understand him." The church's Addiction Recovery Program, with its 12 steps adapted from AA (with permission, but not with their review or approval, as AA does not endorse any outside program) are far more explicit about reliance on the Savior and on our Father in Heaven. The principles of the 12 Step program teach participants to admit their powerlessness over certain things, and to seek God's will for them through prayer.

That's frankly a great formula for everyone to follow in morning prayer each day. Elder Henry B. Eyring said, "A morning prayer and an early search in the scriptures to know what we should do for the Lord can set the course of a day. We can know which task, of all those we might choose, matters most to God and therefore to us. I have learned such a prayer is always answered if we ask and ponder with childlike submission, ready to act without delay to perform even the most humble service" (Liahona, May 2007).

Sometimes there is value in our stepping back from planning for our eternity, and planning instead just for today. What will I do today to serve someone else, to help myself, to learn and grow, to overcome a habit I'm trying to overcome, to better know the Lord? I suggest this not because I think our to-do lists are too short. Quite the contrary, I suggest it because I think our eternal to-do lists are too long! It can be overwhelming to bear the burden of perfection in all things forever. But there are things I can do today. And tomorrow, I can worry about tomorrow.

For me, a focus on each day (when I succeed) allows me to live more in the moment, with less worry about what might be, or what should have been. Instead, I can say, today I will… And at the end of the day I can say, today I did… And tomorrow is another day.


  1. Good thoughts, Paul. This really hit home as I am anticipating an upcoming move. While planning for the future can be a good thing, I recognize that sometimes I spend too much time looking for homes on the internet or anticipating the details of how things will need to be. Sometimes this comes at the cost of time with my family or focusing on today's work.

    Your comments reminded me of President Monson's counsel to learn from the past, prepare for the future and live in the present. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Thanks, Dallin. I hadn't thought about Pr Monson's counsel in this regard, but it does teach about striking the balance. Thanks for that.