How do we change when change feels impossible?
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Starting Change: Heart, Mind, Path
In the business world, very smart people found very valuable principles that make change possible when change is hard. One book, Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath, explains that three things need to be in place: HEART, MIND, and PATH.
- We need the reach and motivate the HEART.
- We need to direct the MIND.
- We need to clear the PATH so there is an easy way forward.
These principles work.
The Fourth (Missing) Gospel Component
Just a few days ago, as I prepared to speak on this topic, an impression came that changed everything for me. This is it:
IN THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST, THERE IS A FOURTH COMPONENT.
If we ignore it, we are making life and change much harder than it needs to be, and maybe impossible. That Fourth and missing component to change when change is hard, is POWER: HEAVENLY POWER.
Elder James E. Faust said:
“Problems will yield to a spiritual solution.” (Feb 2003 Ensign, Strengthening the Inner Self.)
That divine power comes in many forms:
- Promptings, assurances, greater faith, gifts of the Spirit, blessings, revelation, promises, the ministering of angels, healings of body, mind, or appetites, and especially…
- “Grace,” which in the language of scripture means divine help and strength, including the power to continue good works that we could not sustain if we were left on our own. (See Grace, Bible Dictionary, www.lds.org.)
Unlocking Power to Change
But how do we unlock that power to change when change is hard? This is the principle:
“By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” (Alma 37:6.)
I personally testify that the Lord’s POWER and help is found wherever there is even the slightest beginning of trust and reliance on God and especially Jesus Christ.
When we start to act in small, simple ways, we begin to do “all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23)—yes, by motivating the heart, directing the mind, and clearing the path. And in doing those things we begin to qualify for the promised DIVINE POWER. Then, as we continue, it grows stronger. The Lord said:
“He that receiveth … and continueth in God, receiveth more … and [it] groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (DC 50:24.)
I’m going to share a story now. Will you watch for that process in this young man’s life?
- Watch how the Lord and others reached his HEART, and MIND, and cleared a PATH.
- Then especially watch how as this young man did small and simple things the Lord extended his POWER to lift and deliver him.
Story of Todd Sylvester
Todd Sylvester grew up in a good family, but without any belief in God. In fact, he made fun of people who thought God was real. He didn’t need someone else’s make-believe God. He lived for himself, partying hard, even winning two state basketball championships. Everything was going for him. So it seemed.
But Todd had a secret: an eight-year drug addiction. By age 22 it took a terrible toll on him, and he finally lost his college basketball scholarship and everything else he had ever earned.
With his life in shambles, he decided to end it.
As Todd considered his suicide, he just happened to overhear two girls talking about fasting at a school cafeteria table. Intrigued, he asked the girls what they meant. They told him how they fasted and prayed when they needed help from God.
Deciding to Fast
He decided to try it. So he prayed and told God he would fast, go without food and water for 24 hours, but he wanted God to show himself to him. For the first time in 8 years Todd went without drugs and alcohol for 24 hours. But nothing happened, Todd said. He didn’t want to end his life any more, but he was sure God hadn’t spoken to him. So he forgot about the whole thing.
The following month, an old friend reached out to Todd, a friend he hadn’t seen in five years. They hung out and caught up on old times, and then suddenly his friend told him that the previous day, he had received a strong impression from God to call him. He told Todd that God needed him on His side—today. Todd was speechless. Was God answering his prayer?
Meeting with His Bishop
Todd’s friend also recommended that he meet and talk with his bishop. He went, and as he hesitantly opened up about his addiction, he had a very positive experience.
“I just spilled my guts to him,” Todd said. “I told him all the bad things I was doing, all the things I was struggling with—and there was quite a long list… the lying, the cheating, the stealing.”
His loving bishop asked him to do just four things:
- Say a simple prayer once a day, just like he did when he prayed that first time,
- Read one verse of scripture every day,
- Come back to meet with him every week for a year, and
- Be completely honest with him, no matter what he did or didn’t do.
Small and simple things.
Todd did it, because his bishop made him feel loved and safe. Every week for the first eight months, Todd would report honestly that he still drank and he still did drugs every day.
“It wasn’t until the eight-month mark when I could look him in the eye and say, ‘I made it three days clean this week,'” Todd said. “Eight months.”
The Girl at the Lemonade Stand
“About this eight-month mark, I was still a bartender, which was not good for an alcoholic,” Todd said. “I would get tips from the waiters and waitresses that I would keep—I’d get a lot of change—and I’d keep it in my car. I had about $40 worth of quarters in my car at this particular time.”
“I was really struggling, trying to stay clean…. It was a Saturday, it was a beautiful day, and I was driving up to where I lived. [And] I see this little girl selling lemonade. … I just drive right past her. Then I have this impression that says, ‘Turn around and give her all the money in your car.’ I [thought] ‘Oh, okay.’ So I flipped a U-turn, and I pull back, and there’s this cute little elementary school girl just sitting there. I rolled down my window.
“‘How much for a cup?’
“She said, ’25 cents.’
“I said, ‘Beautiful, I’ll take a cup.’ And so she pours it, brings it over, hands it to me, I set it on my dashboard, and I said, ‘Okay, hold your hands out like this,’ and I just start scooping all these quarters, nickels, and dimes into her hands. It’s spilling over, and she’s just like, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you so much!’ And I said, ‘Hold on.’ It takes me like eight scoops, and all of the sudden, she just takes off into the house….
“As I pull away, I just start to cry. I start crying so hard, because it was the first time I can ever remember that I ever did something for somebody else. And I literally had to pull my car over, and I cried—I just balled my eyes out for 20 minutes. . . . It felt like my soul was being cleansed, and when I gave her that money, it was the first time I felt like I mattered. . . .
“But it was this moment that I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to use anymore,’ and everything was going to be okay.”
The Next Saturday and The Next
After giving the little girl his tip money, Todd drove past the same neighborhood the following Saturday. Her lemonade stand was still there. She had said she was saving money for a trampoline. When she recognized Todd drive up again, her eyes grew big and lit up.
For the next two and a half months, Todd visited the girl at the lemonade stand every Saturday to give her his change, and something incredible started to happen.
“Every time I would do that, every Saturday,” Todd said, “I started loving myself more. I started feeling the Spirit more.”
Friendly Face at Church
As Todd’s heart began to soften, he decided to attend church. Sitting in the back corner, uncomfortable and alone, Todd was scared to death. Used to being at a bar rather than at a church, he started to scan the audience for anyone familiar.
Suddenly, his eyes landed on the same little girl from the lemonade stand. She started waving excitedly, and pointed Todd out to her mom. After the meeting, the girl and her mother came over to Todd, and the mom was crying. She whispered to Todd, “I want you to know, for my daughter, you have changed her life. Thank you for being so generous.”
Todd emotionally responded, “You have no idea what this has done for me.”
The little girl’s mother then asked Todd for a favor. The little girl had no father in the home, and the Ward was having a daddy-daughter activity. Would he be willing to take her o that activity?
He was scared to death. He felt out of place. But they played “How Well Do You Know Your Daughter and Daddy?”, and they got almost every answer right, even though they were guessing.
“All these things were leading up to soften my heart and to change my life,” he said.
A Prayer over Hot Dogs and Kool-Aid
Then they offered a blessing over the hot dogs and Kool-Aid. He thought it was strange but he bowed his head. He said:
“Two years after that initial fast and prayer, 700 days after I had pleaded with God in my closet, I felt something I had never felt in my life, something 20 times stronger than any drug I had ever taken. It was as if someone were hugging me, as if someone were telling me I was home, that these people were good, and that I needed to be with them, that God was there, and that He knew me by name, and that He loved me.”
“And I just start to bawl—I mean cry like no other. And so he finishes the prayer, and everyone’s looking—I mean, literally, I’m sobbing—and he’s like, ‘Dude, it’s just hot dogs.’
“I said, ‘These are happy tears, I’m so sorry,’ and I’m looking at Lindy . . . [the little girl from the lemonade stand, saying], ‘Thank you for letting me be here.'”
“I always thought that if God were to manifest himself to me that he would come down in a lightning bolt or a great clash of fire, but I learned that day at the picnic that I was wrong. I realized that it is part of our condition as mortals to sometimes feel as though we are surrounded by darkness. But even though we may feel lost, that God promises to illuminate the way no matter how long it may take.”
(From LDSLiving.com, How a Girl at a Lemonade Stand Answered an Addict’s Prayer in the Most Unexpected of Ways and MormonChannel.org, The Hope of God’s Light. Girl and Lemonade Stand screen shot from Todd’s Story video on Todd Sylvester’s website.)
Small and Simple Things
By small and simple things are great things are brought to pass.
Small steps we take will open the doors for the Lord to show great POWER in our lives, one small step at a time, line upon line, here a little and there a little.
But we must “continue as [we] commenced.” (DC 9:5.)
What are some of those small and simple things we can do to open that door in our own lives when we need to change? When it’s hard?
What did we see in Todd’s life?
READING THE SCRIPTURES DAILY is a small and simple thing.
TODD: One verse every day, no matter what.
MY DAD: Passed away recently. At one dark time in his life he lost the desire to study the scriptures. BUT going through in his personal scriptures I found a card signed just a few years before his passing: “[On this date] Never again, for the rest of my life, will I ever miss another day of scripture study.” And he signed it.
THE YOUTH: Studies show that you’re spending roughly 7 hours of screen time per day. Can you replace just 5 minutes of that time each day, no matter what? Maybe by doing it FIRST, before you watch other things?
LOVE and SMALL ACTS OF KINDNESS is another small and simple thing.
TODD: Did a small act of kindness for a little girl, suddenly he started to feel Christlike love for himself and others, and he began to see how God loved him. Who around us could we reach out to in small ways?
MY DAD: My Dad died recently and I suddenly realized: he was my very best buddy in the world! His love and influence was suddenly magnified as I realized the massive extent of his influence, counsel, and friendship. He would smile! He would encourage! He would call and just talk! He would send me emails! He would listen! Now he was gone for a time. How had I missed all that?
JESUS CHRIST: Isn’t Christ the same way? Are we failing to fully realize the full extent of his influence and friendship and love for us, and sacrifice in our lives? The more we reflect on what he did, the more we love him, and the more the love influences our heart and mind to ACT, walk the PATH, and receive his POWER and help.
OBEDIENCE is a small and simple thing.
“It comes close to being a cure all.” —Elder Boyd K Packer said. (The Balm of Gilead, Oct 1987 General Conference, lds.org.)
Now, you might say: “Brother Crenshaw, this one doesn’t make sense. Obedience is what I’m struggling with.”
Let me explain, I don’t mean “keep all the commandments at once, perfectly.”
TODD: Todd didn’t. Instead, he obeyed a few small and simple things, whatever he could obey at first with exactness. That started to open the door for greater help and power.
JESUS CHRIST: The Lord himself taught that if we are faithful over a few things, we will be made ruler over many things, and enter into His joy. (Matt 25:21.)
US: As we begin to obey, if we truly understand “God is a God of truth and cannot lie,” (Enos 1:6, Ether 3:12) then we realize he will fulfill his promises of the law that we obeyed. Obey the law of tithing, and we qualify for the blessings. And our faith grows. And we move to other commandments, and other blessings, and it grows “brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”
FAMILY STORY: The act of obedience, by itself, puts us in a position where we can be helped by the Lord. My son Jason had a bad case of the hiccups when he was 6. He came me asking for help. I tried to tell him my best remedy—completely holding his breath while drinking ten swallows of water—and he tried his best, but he just couldn’t do it. So I said: “Jason, do you know the garage, where we have boxes in the middle that you can walk around?” He nodded. “Do you know how it’s really dark if you don’t turn the lights on?” He nodded, his eyes getting bigger. “I want you to go into the garage—do NOT turn the lights on—and walk slowly around the boxes twice. Then come back inside.” His eyes were really big now. “Will you do that?” Jason nodded earnestly, and he did it. He walked slowly in that dark and scary garage, and then when he came inside…
I jumped out from behind the door and scared the living daylights out of him! He fell down onto a pile of laundry… and started to laugh when he realized that his hiccups were gone.
His trusting obedience to a small and simple thing put him in a position where I could extend my power to him. If he were not obedient it would’ve been impossible for me to help him, even though I had the knowledge and the power. It is the same with us and God.
LISTENING TO AND FOLLOWING THE COUNSEL OF THE LORD’S SERVANTS is an especially powerful small and simple thing.
Relief Society presidents, Elders Quorum presidents, home teachers, a bishop are all entitled to inspiration for us. The simple act of hearkening to their inspired counsel puts us in a position where the Lord can help us.
TODD: We see it in Todd’s story, meeting with his bishop weekly and following his simple, loving counsel.
FAMILY STORY: Many years ago, during another dark time, my Dad needed a job. He had been counselling with his bishop, and one day the bishop said: “Mills, I’m not saying it’s inspiration, but the though keeps coming to me that you need to go back to doing tile work.”
Now there were potential problems with this. My father didn’t have a contractor’s license, and while it wasn’t technically illegal to do ceramic tile installation, he was at a huge disadvantage if someone decided to not pay. He explained this to the bishop. “I’m not saying it’s inspiration,” the bishop said, “but the thought keeps coming to me.”
My father finally decided that whatever else the issues may be, he was going to obey the counsel of his priesthood leader. So he started doing tile work again.
Two weeks later, he was installing a luxurious tile shower in a very nice home. He overheard the homeowner in a business meeting, discussing a marketing and sales problem. My father spoke up. “Have you tried this… and this…?” They looked started. “No, we haven’t those are great ideas, thank you.” Later, in a similar discussion, he offered another marketing idea.
The owner looked at him puzzled. “What is your background?”
“Marketing and sales,” my father answered.
“What are you doing installing tile?”
“I have to do something to pay the bills while I’m searching,” was the answer.
“Why don’t you come work for us?”
That was the beginning of the best, highest-paying job Dad ever had. His obedience put him in a position where the Lord could extend his POWER to help him.
PRAYER is a small and simple thing.
TODD: With Todd it started with a simple prayer once a day.
US: We can do what Todd did at first. Then we can pray morning and night. Then we can begin praying in our hearts until we start to look to God “in every thought” (DC 6:36-7) and receive the promised blessings to “come off conqueror.” (DC 10:5.)
Other Small and Simple Things
There are many other small and simple things that unlock the Lord’s power to help us change things in our lives. Do you recognize these from Todd’s story? How can you apply them in your life?
- HEEDING THE SIMPLE PROMPTINGS OF THE SPIRIT
- NOTICING SOMEONE BY THEMSELVES AT CHURCH AND TALKING TOTHEM
- TELLING SOMEONE YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH A GOSPEL PRINCIPLE
TODD: The girls at the lunchroom table shared theirs, then a friend shared his, and Todd shared his with us. What was the impact?
MY DAD: My father shared his sacred experiences with me, and I thought: “If it could happen to him, why not me?” if gave me faith to ask for myself, and receive.
This is an eternal principle. When others hear our experience, it installs faith in them. If we call this “testimony” it sounds too formal, but that’s what it is
What Impressions Came to You?
As you read this or or listened… what simple impressions came to you of small and simple things you can start doing to allow the Lord’s POWER in your life, to change things that are hard for you right now?
When those impressions come, “write them down in the margin of your notes, and circle them.” Then actually go home and do them. “If you will … you can count on special treatment” because “that is how you get the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.” (Elder Henry B. Eyring, personal notes, Nashville, Tennessee Leadership Training, June 1999.) I heard those words in a regional leadership meeting almost 20 years ago, and they changed my life forever.
Problems will yield to a spiritual solution. And they do it as we do small and simple things that the Lord and his servants have asked us to do. Small acts of obedience and faithfulness. Those things unlock the Lord’s POWER to lift us and deliver us.
That’s his mission. It is his whole mission. He has nothing better to do. He lives and loves us and he knows you by name. He is ready and anxious to help us—not just forgive but to lift and change our very natures.
He has the power.
He will help you.
I have experienced myself, it in my own life.
It starts with the small and simple things.
Every Good Thing Blog
Kevin Crenshaw is a Mormon who teaches and advises Mormon young men and recently served as a 7-year volunteer seminary teacher for LDS youth. Although he makes every effort to be a careful student of LDS theology and history, the opinions expressed are his own. He is not authorized to speak officially in behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Based on a talk given Sunday 15 Jan 2017, in Venice, Florida Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Images: Puzzle, Man Alone, and Grass from Pixabay, CC0 license.