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President Dallin H. Oaks: 'Small and simple things'

On a morning walk, President Dallin H. Oaks was reminded of the power of small and simple things over time when he saw thick and strong concrete sidewalks that were cracked from the force of slow, small growth of roots from adjacent trees.

"The thrusting power that cracked these heavy concrete sidewalks was too small to measure on a daily or even a monthly basis, but its effect over time was incredibly powerful," remarked President Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, in his Sunday morning general conference address on April 1.

"So is the powerful effect over time of the small and simple things we are taught in the scriptures and by living prophets," he said. "Consider the scripture study we've been taught to incorporate into our daily lives. Or, consider the personal prayers and the kneeling family prayers that are regular practices for faithful Latter-day Saints. Consider attendance at seminary for youth or institute classes for young adults. Though each of these practices may seem to be small and simple, over time they result in powerful spiritual uplift and growth. This occurs because each of these small and simple things invites the companionship of the Holy Ghost, the Testifier who enlightens us and guides us into truth."

Ongoing repentance, even of seemingly small transgressions, is another source of spiritual uplift and growth, President Oaks said. "Our own inspired self-evaluations can help us see how we have fallen short and how we can do better. Such repentance should precede our weekly partaking of the sacrament."

Seemingly insignificant private decisions that prepare for profound decisions include "how we use our time, what we view on television and the internet, what we read, the art and music with which we surround ourselves at work and at home, what we seek for entertainment, and how we apply our commitment to be honest and truthful," President Oaks said.

"Another seemingly small and simple thing is being civil and cheerful in our personal interactions," he added.

Such behavior must be consistent and continuous to have a lifting effect, he said. "We are surrounded by media influences and cultural deteriorations that will carry us downstream in our values if we are not continually resisting. To move upstream toward our eternal goal, we must constantly keep paddling."

Displaying on television screens images of a single paddler and then a team of paddlers, President Oaks explained, "It helps if we are part of a team who are paddling together, like a rowing team in action. To extend that example even further, the currents are so strong that if we ever stop paddling, we will be carried downstream toward a destination we do not seek but which becomes inevitable if we do not constantly try to move forward."

Referring to the account in Numbers 21:6 of Moses erecting a serpent of brass on a pole and instructing the people to look at the serpent in order to be delivered from the plague of fiery serpents, President Oaks commented, "That example and that teaching remind us that the simplicity of the way or the easiness of the commanded task cannot mean that it is unimportant to achieve our righteous desire."

Similarly, he said, even small acts of disobedience or minor failures to follow righteous practices can draw one downward.

"The Word of Wisdom provides an example of this," he said. "Likely the effect on the body of one cigarette or one drink of alcohol or one dose of another drug cannot be measured. But over time, the effect is powerful and may be irreversible."

He noted that avoiding consequences of partaking of anything that can be addictive — such as drugs that attack the body or pornography that degrades one's thoughts — is totally avoidable if one never partakes even once.

President Oaks cited the words of President M. Russell Ballard given at the general conference of April 1990. On that occasion, President Ballard spoke of weak fibers that form yarn, then a strand and finally a rope that can become too strong to be broken. He compared it to the power of small and simple things to either build spirituality or to lead one into despair and misery.

Similarly, President Oaks noted, Steven C. Wheelwright at a BYU-Hawaii devotional on Aug. 31, 2007, said, "'It is in failing to do the small and simple things that faith wavers, miracles cease and progress toward the Lord and His kingdom is first put on hold, then begins to unravel as seeking after the kingdom of God is replaced with more temporal pursuits and worldly ambitions.'"

President Oaks also quoted Elder David A. Bednar as saying at an April 29, 2011, BYU Women's Conference: "'If you and I are focused and frequent in receiving consistent drops of spiritual nourishment, then gospel roots can sink deep into our soul, can become firmly established and grounded, and can produce extraordinary and delicious fruit.'"