Small Steps Can Lead to Big Gains in Life

Small Steps Can Lead to Big Gains in Life September 17, 2022

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“Small Steps,” Albert Gallatin House; Friendship Hill National Historic Site, August 26, 2012, Stryker33; Creative Commons

Mental toughness and a determination to keep grinding it out according to a sound though flexible game plan while adhering to fundamentals can make a big difference. It is true in sports and it is true in life.

Take for example the “Rain Game” between the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field in Chicago last Sunday. The conditions were horrible. Both teams had a very difficult time with moving the ball at various points in the contest. The Bears remained poised even after closing the first half down 10-0. They committed far fewer penalties and costly mistakes and made adjustments to their game plan during the second half to come out on top. Small steps along the way led to big gains.

I’ve been a Bears fan all my life, so I am not going to make predictions that this team has turned the tide and will come out on top the rest of the season. Still, it was a good start to the year with a new coaching and management system that so far appears smart and strategic.

Something similar happens in life. My wife and I have been learning quite a bit about the need to keep our poise and not panic or make rash decisions. We take small steps and grind it out, while adhering to a sound though flexible game plan in caring for my adult son Christopher who endures TBI.

Speaking of small steps and grinding it out, a CNA with a coaching background in combat sports told me that he watches closely the little movements my son makes when he attends to Christopher. Subtle responses to the CNA’s prompts in changing and repositioning Christopher are small steps that can lead to big gains in life. The CNA encouraged me when he said, “Little steps can lead to a great big step.” He keeps coaching and cheering Christopher on, as do so many others who read my posts, like you. Thank you!

I thought even more about this matter following our neurology appointment on Wednesday. I could tell that Christopher’s neurologist was pleasantly surprised when he walked in the examination room. He could see the significant difference in Christopher’s person since the last appointment.

Christopher was very relaxed during the visit, unlike the last appointment. Both eyes were fully open, not simply the right one. Christopher’s head was facing forward and upward rather than the right cheek pushing down on his right shoulder like before. Christopher was also sitting on his Geri chair rather than lying on a gurney, as was the case previously. No doubt, the baclofen pump surgery and the increased dosages of baclofen are big factors leading to these positive developments. These are small steps of progress.

I shared this update with our personal medical consultant Dr. Potter, who has decades of experience in medical ethics and palliative care. I mentioned the fact that these are small steps of progress full of potential. Dr. Potter agreed and responded: “Minimal changes indicate maximal possibilities.”

It is quite easy to miss how important such small steps are in a society that fixates on quick fixes and instant, dramatic growth. No wonder we are often weak-kneed when facing incredible adversity. Here I call to mind the healthy corrective “Old Camel-Knees” James puts before us. He was called “Old Camel Knees” because he wore out his knees in prayer. He encouraged fellow Christians who were enduring great suffering to grind out their faith during trials and tribulations according to God’s game plan for their lives. He writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4; NIV)

Jesus’ half-brother James and my only son Christopher teach me the importance of grinding it out. Taking small steps in the face of adversity can lead to great gains in life.

It is essential for gaining perspective when I only see small steps along the way to step back and recall how Christopher wasn’t even minimally conscious for weeks after enduring the traumatic brain injury. I must remember the high fevers and seizure activity. I need to keep in mind the unrelenting spasticity he endured. Only then can I see that these very small steps of progress in his condition are real progress.

When I was a child and teenager, I was always surprised when adults I hadn’t seen for months or a year or two would say, “Wow, how you’ve grown!” I didn’t see much growth because I happened to be with me daily!

The neurologist could see the positive change in Christopher and it helped me to see the change, too. Granted, Christopher has such a very long way to go. We have no idea what the future holds or how much progress he will make. But we have time, plenty of it. All I know is that we have to continue to cultivate mental toughness and a determination to keep grinding it out according to a sound though flexible game plan while adhering to fundamentals. Small steps can lead to big gains in sports, in faith, and in health.

Remember what the good doctor said, “Minimal changes indicate maximal possibilities.” That’s true for all of us.

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author and Editor of numerous works, including The Word of Christ and the World of Culture: Sacred and Secular through the Theology of Karl Barth (Eerdmans, 2003) and Evangelical Zen: A Christian's Spiritual Travels with a Buddhist Friend (Patheos, 2015). You can read more about the author here.

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