by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

A friend reminded me of a frequently cited Chinese proverb: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” But why is it, so often, that the very first step is the hardest one to take?

Whatever the reason for a first step, it symbolizes the beginning of something new, making a change, choosing to pursue a goal or a dream, making a commitment. After years of pondering and consideration, my first step has finally been taken. I’ve finally started up a path that promises more order, balance and activity in my life, along with less body weight. Note that I didn’t merely say “diet.”

Yes, I would like to weigh less. But my weight is only one of the outcomes of my goals, rather than a goal in and of itself.

It’s interesting to pause and wonder why it took me so long to begin this revised life journey — to take that very first step. Some people never even begin their journeys, because often the first step just seems too difficult. And so, they stop before they start.

Perhaps we put too much importance on a first step. And in so doing, the journey ahead feels laborious and burdensome with a destination impossible to reach. Maybe we think too much about that first step, and we consciously or unconsciously argue against taking it. I recall a speaker who referred to the “paralysis of analysis” as the pathway to a dead-end of inertia and inaction. This is what can happen when we spend hours, days or weeks in “what if” thinking — what if I’m making a wrong decision, what if I don’t like my choice, what if this is too difficult for me, what if I fail to reach my goal?

A famous children’s story gave me some encouragement. Remember the story about “The little engine that could”? It’s the story of a long train that must be pulled over a high mountain. Various large engines are asked to do the job, and all refuse for various reasons. Apparently, many feel the long train is too much for them to pull. Finally, a small engine is asked and agrees to try. By chugging onward and forward with its motto, “I-think-I-can,” the little engine succeeds in pulling the long train over the mountain.

“‘Can’t’ never could do nothin'” — my mamma’s words echo from my childhood. The large engines’ reluctance proved this statement to be true quite proficiently. It was not going to be an easy journey for the little engine, but she was willing to make it and refused to be daunted. Even when she struggled and was barely able to move, she continued her journey, however slowly, insisting on the possibility for success. Great human strength and willpower were not going to help this little engine get over the mountain. So, what did help her achieve what the large engines were certain they couldn’t?

I think she was well on her way when she made the commitment to do the job. The stronger our commitment, the more likely it is that we can achieve our goal. Commitment inspires expectation, and expectation will always speed our progress.

I also think this little engine kept her focus on the destination rather than on the treacherous path she had to travel to get there. So, we must look beyond any single step to be undertaken, not putting too much emphasis on any one step but remaining focused on our desired goal.

Don’t be too hard on yourself for being slow to take a first step. Look at a child learning to walk. That first step might have been a little shaky or even uncertain, and it may have been slow in the making, but have you ever seen a child after she takes that first step? There’s no stopping her!

Certainly, the child’s first step was a small one. But after she took that first step, she was more confident about taking another one — albeit another small step. She didn’t run before she walked. So, too, we must be patient with ourselves and not think we can travel the last mile of our journey before the first and all the ones in between. Yet once the little child takes those first few steps, she never looks down again but only in the direction toward which she is going.

Like the little engine that thought it could, I know I can reach my goals. Why am I so sure? Because God impels us forward, toward knowing Him better as well as ourselves as His beloved children, fully equipped with all we need for our life journeys.

And what to say about the journey? Well, it’s a lifelong journey. There can only be forward steps, never retrograde ones. Even those that at first seem backward, turn out not to be, as every step of our lifelong journey brings with it many lessons learned. And lessons learned keep us progressing along our path.

Paul’s words encouraging us to reach “forth unto those things which are before” and “press toward the mark” make me think about how to go for our goals and dreams (Philippians 3:13-14). We must keep our gaze upward and onward and travel our journey with faith and belief that anything is possible. And there’s never any time like the present for a step forward.