In recovery circles, one often hears the slogans “One day at a time” and “One step at a time.” Those slogans recognize that for an addict, an alcoholic or a co-dependent, change is neither instantaneous nor permanent.
Of course that’s true for all of us. We take the sacrament each week because we simply cannot keep our baptismal covenant perfectly. We need to repent as we go along.
There’s another less-used slogan in recovery circles that says “Take the next step.” That slogan may refer to moving from one of the twelve steps to the next one. But more often it is about identifying the right next thing to do.
An anecdote: I have this vague recollection of sometime in grade school when a teacher told us that we cannot add three numbers at the same time. I was a bright kid, and have been argumentative since I could walk, so I bristled at the notion that I could not add three numbers at once. I could clearly look at 1+3+4 and know that they equal 8. My teacher’s point, of course, was that my brain actually did it in two steps: 1+3=4, and 4+4=8. Even if I did those calculations very quickly, I still only added two numbers at once.
Just as I cannot add three numbers at once, but must add the first two, then add the third to the result, so I can only take the next step in my life, whatever that is. And the most important thing to my spiritual development is my next step.
Hence, the value of the slogan, “Take the next step.”
Yes, I can fix my eye on the long term goal. I can look to the horizon to see where I am going. But in the end, the only way I get to my end is one step at a time. And my most important step is my next one.
I’ve long held that if we think of our journey back to Heavenly Father as a long path, we’re probably all on different spots on the path. Brother X may be ahead of me, and Brother Y may be behind me, but I am where I am. I can’t judge my progress relative to others, because for me, the only thing for me to worry about is my next step.
Similarly, I can’t judge my fellow path-walkers based on my progress. Brother X who is ahead of me may be having just as great a struggle with his next step as I am. Just because he’s ahead of me on the path does not mean his road is easier than mine. And Brother Y who is behind me needs to concentrate on his next step, not mine. I may offer Brother X the security of knowing someone is behind him to support him if he stumbles, and I may offer Brother Y a hand as he steps forward, but for my progress, my next step is my concern.
Especially since we are a missionary church, it should not surprise us that we are scattered all over the path. Some may hear a talk about family scripture study and find it inspirational and uplifting and encouraging because it matches well with their next step. Others may hear it and dismiss it because they aren’t there yet. Both responses may be completely appropriate.
Acknowledging we are at different places on the path does not excuse sin, nor does it eliminate the need for standards of worthiness. But it may help us to view one another with compassion as we move along our way.