Small and Simple Means

How often does a year go by and you feel like you’re much the same person as you were one year ago? That’s the case for me more often than not.

But as 2022 was ending and I needed to assess my professional development, I felt like I had grown more than I normally did. I worked on specific areas of growth with the help of my manager. I felt like a more capable employee.

Sometimes, we have experiences that drive us to stretch and do more than we thought we could. And like the ache in my legs when I had growing pains as a kid, the growth can be uncomfortable and even painful.

But much more often, our growth is hard to detect, and we may wonder if we’re getting anywhere, especially if we’re getting any closer to God.

When I turned 40, I wrote an entry in my journal comparing myself to who I was at age 20. We develop so much and have to make so many trajectory-setting decisions during our first 20 years. Had I developed that significantly in the second 20 years?

It was challenging to make the comparison because the experiences entailed in those two periods were so different, but I could see a high amount of growth in myself since I turned 20. However, ask me at any given time in that second 20 years if I were growing—if I were better in the moment you asked than in the moment before—the vast majority of the time, my answer would be no. Growth, progress, maturity, whatever you want to call it, happens in such small increments that there’s no ruler by which to measure it.

This kind of growth is represented in the Parable of the House Plants. Gail started with very little, and she hoped for and expected somewhat rapid growth in those plants. She became confused or frustrated when it didn’t occur as she thought it should. Do we take the same view of ourselves? Do we take the time to look back farther and appreciate how far we’ve come?

This parable is mainly about mostly imperceptible spiritual growth and progress. But in rereading it, I think there are other points to draw from it.

Gail forgets that even though the plants are much the same, they are in fact different and may react to the same environment differently.

A parent with multiple children learns at some point that not every child responds to parenting styles and methods the same way because each child’s needs are not the same. They all require the basics of nutritious food, water, shelter, clothing, and security—and to know that they’re loved and valued. But the way I teach obedience and kindness to one child may not be the same as the way I teach these principles to another.

Gail had instructions and followed them in nourishing her plants. As much as she could, she provided the same stimuli to each one. But our Heavenly Father knows perfectly that what I need to grow in the optimal way isn’t the same as what my neighbor needs or even what my brother needs. The life circumstances of His billions of children differ vastly. His plan for our salvation and exaltation is general, but it’s also individual. We experience spiritual growth spurts at different times and in response to different events.

For the most part, however, it’s “by small and simple means are great things brought to pass, . . . And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls” (Alma 37:6–7).

It’s ironic that the saying goes “the devil’s in the details” because I and countless others have learned by experience that Heavenly Father knows and works through the details of our lives. He notices every small choice we make that keeps us on track. He sees every spiritual muscle we strengthen by resisting the natural man (Mosiah 3:19). He appreciates every fraction of a degree that we become more like Him and come closer to Him. And He seeks to help us in all of these little things.

So if you don’t feel like you’re any better a saint or anything else than you were a moment ago, an hour ago, or even a month ago, and you get frustrated with what you see as a lack of progress, try looking back farther. Give yourself credit for the ground you’ve covered. Trusting in God and walking His path, one little step at a time, repenting a day at a time, you’ll find that He is bringing about His great and eternal purposes in making you what He wants you to be.

Image by Thomas Wolter from Pixabay

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