Little Things Count


Joseph B. Wirthlin
Condensed from a BYU fireside address given on October 26, 1986.
We’re all given the same number of hours each day. But the way we spend each minute of those hours makes a great difference.

Little Things Count

I have been impressed recently with the thought that this life is made up of little things—little things that count a great deal. I believe that the little things are of great importance in our relationship with ourselves, in our relationship with others, and in our relationship with God.

The Lord has said, “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33).

I have often thought that some of the most common little things in our lives are the minutes that pass in each hour of the day. For each human being, time is indeed an indispensable resource. It can neither be ignored nor altered. We are compelled to spend it at a fixed rate of 60 minutes every hour. No spigot can be installed to regulate its flow, and no refilling device can replenish its quantity.

The question is not one of managing the clock, but one of managing ourselves with respect to the time we have. Each minute is a little thing and yet, with respect to our personal productivity, to manage the minute is the secret of success.

Relationship with Self

Let us first consider our relationship with ourselves. You must take proper care in your life to see that the little things regarding your personal life are in order. You must learn to care for your health and your mental well-being. Do you maintain proper exercise that will give you the extra energy and alertness of mind to keep your spirit strong and your attitude positive? Are you wise in your diet? Do you avoid the unnutritious snacks that might keep your stomach full but your health quite empty?

Our bodies are truly the result of what we eat and the exercise we receive. If we are not wise these little things can soon catch up with us to become major health problems that will limit our success and contribution.

To these suggestions regarding the little things that impact your physical self, add the encouragement to develop your thoughts along lofty paths.

The Effect of a Thought
Whenever you cultivate a thought,
Remember it will trace
With certain touch in pictured form
A story on your face.
Whenever you dwell upon a thought,
Remember it will roll
Into your being and become
A fiber of your soul.
Whenever you send out a thought,
Remember it will be
A force throughout the universe
For all eternity.

(Author Unknown)

Relationship with Others

With regard to our relationship with others, I often marvel to think of the perfect example that the Lord Jesus Christ provides in all aspects of our existence. If we were to meet him, we would find him refreshingly pleasant and perfect in all his relationships and dealings with each individual.

Do you take the time to remember some of the simple courtesies that are so important in relationships with others? Do you remember the smile, the compliment, the positive note, and the word of encouragement? We should do these important little things without hesitation.

Patience and long suffering, considered by some to be little things in this life, are some of the crowning attributes in dealing with our fellowmen. Whether it be in athletics, in business, or in our Church associations, if you can acquire these two great attributes, you will find that you really can work with people and have a good influence in their lives.

Henry Ward Beecher said that “Every man should have a good-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends” (in Richard L. Evans, Thoughts for One Hundred Days, vol. 4, Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1970, p. 207).

Other important little things that merit our attention are the small acts of service we perform for our fellowmen. President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“I have learned that it is by serving that we learn how to serve. When we are engaged in the service of our fellowmen, not only do our deeds assist them, but we put our own problems in a fresher perspective. When we concern ourselves more with others, there is less time to be concerned with ourselves. … So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks, but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and from small but deliberate deeds! … God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom” (“Small Acts of Service,” Ensign, Dec. 1974, pp. 2, 5).

I am grateful to my parents for their careful attention to detail in teaching me to live the principles of the gospel in relation to my fellowmen. How careful are you in your dealings with your fellowmen?

Are you completely honest in your schoolwork? Do you abide by the rules when you have a take-home exam or a closed-book assignment? Do you carelessly allow group work to be evaluated as your personal work when such is not allowed? Such temptations are common. Likewise, the infractions are too common. But any true Latter-day Saint knows the attitude of the Lord toward such behavior. No young man is worthy of his priesthood calling and no young woman is without blame who consciously cheats or deals in dishonest ways.

Relationship with God

As children of our Heavenly Father, we each have within us every potential of character, of compassion, joy, and of knowledge that we need in our quest for personal growth. The seeds for each godly character trait are in each of us. With that assurance, we are truly able to grow toward godhood as he has commanded us. Do you recall the Savior’s words to the Nephites, “What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27).

We must give attention to the detail that will help us to grow and develop in our relationship with God. We should heed the words of the prophet Alma to his son Helaman, “But behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).

The desire to acquire spiritual qualities will lead us to be cautious about the little lies that make us dishonest, or about the small infractions of the Word of Wisdom that turn our bodies and spirits away from that which is sacred.

The same desire will cause us to pray more intently and to be a little more forgiving of our neighbor’s faults. We will love more and criticize less. If we seek personal growth in a Christlike direction, we must make our life’s purpose the acquisition of these spiritual qualities.

Certainly one of the prime messages of Satan in today’s world is that we really do not need to worry about the small matters. Nephi warned us against this attitude when he said:

“And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Ne. 28:8).

So-called little transgressions are especially serious in our effort to live a life of moral purity. Satan would have us believe that the minor infractions do not need to concern us. Why worry if we do not control our thoughts, or if we allow pornographic or immoral entertainment to be part of our lives?

These little rationalizations prompted by Satan will become great detriments to our spiritual growth. Pornography in all its forms—found at the movie theater, on television, and in printed form—constitutes a spiritual poison that is addictive and destructive. Every ounce of pornography and immoral entertainment will cause you to lose a pound of spirituality. And it will only take a few ounces of immorality to cause you to lose all of your spiritual strength, for the Lord’s Spirit will not dwell in an unclean temple.

Our prophet, President Ezra Taft Benson, gave us excellent counsel when he said:

“We counsel you … not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards. Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic. … Watch those shows and entertainment that lift the spirit and promote clean thoughts and actions. Read books and magazines that do the same” (“To the Youth of the Noble Birthright,” Ensign, May 1986, p. 45).

Perhaps Satan would tempt us further by suggesting that going a little too far in our physical affection with a boyfriend or girlfriend is not so serious. However, our physical affection as we date, and even when we are engaged, must be limited to that which is conservative and wholesome—behavior far different than that which is commonly portrayed in the media of our day.

Lucifer is a master at step-by-step deception. He can make little things seem so harmless when, in reality, they will quickly bind the soul and destroy the spirit. He can make immodest dress and suggestive behavior seem very acceptable. He can cause us to think that a little indiscretion in speech and manner is still quite wholesome. But soon those little steps repeat themselves in an ever-descending pattern until one is at a far-lower level than ever imagined.

I suggest, on the positive side, that we watch for all possible little opportunities to overcome evil and increase our spiritual strength. We must let virtue garnish our thoughts unceasingly, that our confidence will wax strong in the presence of God (see D&C 121:45).

Consider President David O. McKay’s comments regarding the many little things that build our spirituality:

“Every noble impulse, every unselfish expression of love, every brave suffering for the right; every surrender of self to something higher than self; every loyalty to an ideal; every unselfish devotion to principle; every helpfulness to humanity; every act of self-control; every fine courage of the soul, undefeated by pretense or policy, but by being, doing, and living of good for the very good’s sake—that is spirituality” (“Something Higher Than Self,” in Speeches of the Year, 12 Oct. 1965, pp. 4–5).

These little things, which, in reality, become such big things, bring perspective to our lives as we learn to conquer them one by one in our effort to gain more and more strength. And this we do in a spirit of humility and gratitude to our Heavenly Father.

Our living prophet today, President Ezra Taft Benson, observed as a member of the Twelve that all these things are possible. He said, “Our Father’s children are essentially good. I think they have, all of them, a spark of divinity in them … and they want to do what is right” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 4 Oct. 1973, p. 3).

We should try to live every day with absolute faith, for we have learned in life that the Lord keeps his promises and watches over those who trust Him. He has been so good to all of us that we should have a profound conviction that He must really love us in spite of our faults.

I testify to you that these so-called little things that I have mentioned really do count in the eternal perspective of what it is all about, and that is to gain eternal life in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

[photos] Photography by Craig Dimond

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1. Service—Do you take time to perform small acts of service for both your friends and your family?

2. Diet—Do you eat healthy meals and avoid too much junk food?

3. Scripture Study—Do you take at least a little time every day to read and ponder the scriptures?

4. Time—Do you know how to manage the minute? It’s a little thing, but minutes add up.

5. Exercise—Do you get enough to keep your spirit strong and your attitude positive?

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6. Smile—Do you remember the compliment, the positive note, the word of encouragement?

7. Schoolwork—Are you completely honest in it? Do you abide by the exam rules, and only hand in your own work?

8. Kindness—Do you remember the simple courtesies that are so important in any relationship?