Last week I headed north to Monticello to see my new, perfect granddaughter*. The freeway to Flagstaff from the Valley is a pretty fast ride, and I was “going with the flow of traffic,” (wink-wink) when my eyes caught a tiny, pea-sized rock come off the tire of a truck ahead of me. (Which I think is crazy miraculous that our eyes can do that.) I don’t know how fast that rock was going, but I know how fast I was going, yet my eyes tracked that stupid little rock all the way until it hit my windshield with a loud crack.
My brain wanted me to say inappropriate words, but when I looked for a crack or a chip, to my amazement, I couldn’t see one. Surprising, because it really smacked my windshield.
About thirty minutes later, I went over a couple of potholes and a tiny crack finally made its appearance on the edge of the windshield. Apparently the rock had hit far enough to the side that the initial chip wasn’t visible to me. And the crack didn’t stop there. Over the next several hours, I watched as that irritating crack grew and grew. A bump in the road was worth a half-inch. A cloudburst on a hot afternoon was worth a couple more inches.
By the time I reached Monticello, the crack was right in my field of vision and was about ten inches long – far past the point of where it could be repaired. But who wants that? With all the newfangled auto tech, windshields can get pretty pricey these days.
The frustrating thing about a cracked windshields is that if you catch them earlier enough, you can often get them repaired, saving the expense of getting an entire new windshield. For example: The picture on the left side was a chip that I got in the same way a year earlier. Fortunately, I was able to take it to a glass repair shop before it ran and they were able to use some fancy resin and fill the chip.
If you can catch the chip before the resulting “star” grows beyond one inch in diameter, you can usually get it repaired. No new windshield required.
If you don’t get it fixed quickly, it will usually grow and grow until you need to get a new windshield, which is a much bigger hassle and a lot more expensive.
I did get off lucky, because I have full glass coverage on that car, but there is a lesson to be had…
It is a common teaching in the scriptures that little things can lead to big things. Alma taught his son Helaman, “Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass…” (Alma 37:6)
We usually look to this scripture and the similar ones “out of small things proceedeth that which is great,” (D&C 64:33) as a reminders that small things can lead to great, and wonderful things. Less discussed is this simple truth: It works just as well in the other direction.
“By small and simple things, great calamities are brought to pass.” (Me)
Most big problems we deal with started out as something small: A chip grows into a crack, an unkind word grows into a fight, “just once” grows into an addiction, a small doubt grows into apostasy.
For example, a few years ago I had a little sore on my cheek. My sweetheart made it very clear that I should go get it checked. I waited, and it grew. Eventually, they took out some skin cancer and left behind a three-inch scar running down my cheek. Had I caught it early, it would have been a much smaller deal.
Elder Rex Pinegar taught, “…we must be aware that there are small things that can destroy rather than build or strengthen us. Tiny grains of salt sprinkled on concrete can actually cause it to break up and crumble if they are not removed. Similarly, small steps taken in the wrong direction, ignored or uncorrected, will weaken and destroy our lives. Big problems grow out of thinking that little things don’t matter.” (link)
Some of us are skilled at ignoring things until they reach Crisis Level, which is often too late for an easy resolution. By the time we finally get around to addressing it, it has become a much larger battle to fight, and may even seem un-winnable at that point.
When it comes to spiritual matters, Satan loves to exploit any kind of chip or weakness. He knows that if he can help get it started, even a tiny crack it can grow to where it can be destructive to us, and much more difficult to repair.
That’s why we have to catch those things when they are small. We need to repent from sin before it becomes a lifestyle; we need to change our focus before doubts can supplant truths; we need to control our emotions before they break our relationships.
Thankfully, we are blessed to have access to the Atonement. When applied frequently – and early – it can help us to not have to deal with the cracks in our lives that can result from neglecting the small stuff. Christ’s Atonement can help mend those chips, even before they start running out of control.
Some years ago, Elder Jörg Klebingat gave counsel on how to restore “spiritual confidence.” (link) One of the suggestions he made was this:
“Become really, really good at repenting thoroughly and quickly. Because the Atonement of Jesus Christ is very practical, you should apply it generously 24/7, for it never runs out.”
Personally, I love this because one of my personal mottos has been, “Apologize first and repent fast.” It has served me well in many aspects of my life – if and when I apply it.
Of course, the Savior’s Atonement has the power to mend the tiniest of chips and the largest of damage to our lives and hearts. Where it gets dicey is the the longer we allow the crack to grow and sit idly as it takes over more of our lives, we are less likely to have the influence of the Holy Ghost to help us make wise decisions to fix things. That’s when alternate voices can step in and really cause some damage.
Back to Elder Klebingat : “Embrace the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance as things that are to be welcomed and applied daily according to the Great Physician’s orders. Establish an attitude of ongoing, happy, joyful repentance by making it your lifestyle of choice. In doing so, beware of the temptation to procrastinate, and don’t expect the world to cheer you on. Keeping your eyes on the Savior, care more about what He thinks of you, and let the consequences follow. Spiritual confidence increases when you voluntarily and joyfully repent of sins, both small and great, in real time by applying the Atonement of Jesus Christ.“(link)
The best way to apply the Atonement is sincere, daily repentance, followed by taking the sacrament weekly. It is less likely those cracks will run on us if we make those two things part of our lifestyle. Repentance becomes part of our daily lives. Elder Neil L. Andersen said:
“Our weekly taking of the sacrament is so important—to come meekly, humbly before the Lord, acknowledging our dependence upon Him, asking Him to forgive and to renew us, and promising to always remember Him.”
If we have Madde baptismal covenants, and do these things, we can be assured that the Holy Ghost will be with us to not only guide us, but to do the heavy lifting of purifying our hearts by removing the chip.
There’s an old expression that both my dad and my wood shop teacher liked to use. When someone was doing something dumb, or wrong, they tell us to “Nip it in the bud.” In other words, take care of it when it is small, before it grows into a full-blown disaster.
Wise advice for relationships, health, testimony and most every aspect of life I can think of.
Now, about that flawed analogy: You will notice that when the star in my windshield got repaired, the repairmen sealed it up – but you can still see it. This reminded me of something from years past that bugged me then, and bugs me now.
Occasionally, when the subject of repentance was being taught, sometimes sin would be compared to someone pounding nails into a wooden fence. We were taught that when we repent, it is like Jesus, through the Atonement, would pull out those nails for us. But the kicker was that the holes in the fence would remain.
I thought it was weird when I was young, and as I got older, the more bogus that teaching became. President Jospeh Fielding Smith had much harsher things to say about “holes in the fence” teaching:
“It appears to me the most extreme folly to believe, much less to teach, that the atonement of Jesus Christ merely paved the way for the remission and forgiveness of the sins of those who truly repent; and after one has truly repented and been baptized, he still must pay the price to some extent for his transgressions. This means that the man has not been truly forgiven, but is placed on probation with a penalty attached. This idea, which has so often been taught by saying that the holes remain after the nails are withdrawn, is a false doctrine when applied to the atonement for the truly repentant sinner” ( Doctrines of Salvation,2:332).
When I first heard the teaching corrected, the speaker simply made the point, “When we repent, Jesus doesn’t pull the nails out – He gives us an entirely new fence.” That stuck with me. I don’t remember who said it, but I’m greatful.
Have a lovely Sabbath, and watch out for rocks.
*Our new granddaughter, Juniper. Sweetest little thing, ever. Mom and baby, (and Dad) are doing well.