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One Day at a Time


 By Don Umphrey

 (scriptural citations from the NIV)

 It was from a fellow patient in a mental hospital that I learned alcohol was my problem—not my solution to problems as I’d long thought.  So, I started attending a 12-step recovery program and got some great advice from people who’d been sober for a long time.

 Me: “You mean I have to go the rest of my life without drinking?”

Man with long-term sobriety: “No, I didn’t say that.  Can you go one day without drinking?”

Me (sheepishly): “Yeah, I guess.”

Man with long-term sobriety: “Good.  When you get up tomorrow morning, do the same thing.”

Recovery groups addressing all sorts of addictions encourage their members to trust God while abstaining from their addictive substance, behavior or pattern of thinking one day at a time.

In the same vein a minister told me: “Life by the yard is hard, but life by the inch is a cinch.

Jesus Recommends It

 Jesus focused on the day-at-a-time principle in the three passages below. 

“… Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

This one is from the middle of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

So Does Moses

“Daily bread” is what God provided to his people after their exodus from slavery in Egypt. The Israelites called it ‘manna.’  “It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31).  It came down with the dew six mornings each week starting on Sundays.

On Sundays through Thursdays, Moses instructed the people to pick up enough manna for that day.  “However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell” (Exodus 16:16). 

Sometimes we can get spiritually stinky by carrying negative baggage (resentments, conflicts with family, friends, co-workers, etc.) rather than dealing with these things as they occur. 

In what ways have you been spiritually stinky? How has this affected your life?

On Fridays God’s children got twice as much manna, provided by God with a longer shelf-life so that it could also be eaten the following day. This was because the people observed a day of rest on the Sabbath (Saturday) and were forbidden to work.   

“Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none” (Exodus 16:27). They had to go hungry the rest of the day.  We can get spiritually hungry when we don’t pay attention to God’s word. 

 In what ways lately have you found yourself spiritually hungry?  How did this impact your life?

 The Pain of Withdrawal

Getting back to my early days of recovery, I was able to apply the one-day-at-a-time principle to my life as it applied to drinking.  However, I continued smoking about 40 cigarettes—two packs per day.  It was an addiction (notice that I don’t call it a “habit”) that started during my first year of college.  

When I had been clean and sober just over five years, the media carried some news about smoking tobacco that went something like this: “If you are between the ages of 30 and 35 (I was.) and smoke x number of cigarettes daily (I did.), you may be taking eight to 10 years off of your life.”


 I had one more cigarette in the pack in my top pocket, took it out and smoked it and haven’t had a cigarette since. (But keep reading.)

 Switching Methods of Withdrawal Pain

 In order to help me cope with the nicotine withdrawal symptoms from smoking cigarettes, I purchased a round container of snuff to use for a very brief period to get me “over the hump.”  One reason for stopping smoking was to minimize health problems. Later, smokeless tobacco was also associated with health problems.

I intended to get over the hump very quickly, but to avoid the discomfort of withdrawals, I kept dipping snuff. While teaching at three different universities during a period of 16 years, I had to sneak off to spew my tobacco juice. 

 Finally, at age 49 I realized that there was no hump and that I would have to bite the bullet. I chose a day in the future—the day after I turned in my grades for the spring semester—to stop using snuff.  

 It irked me that I was paying increasing money for something to put into my mouth and later spit out.

 This was the first time in my university teaching career that I didn’t look forward to the start of summer vacation.  

From Days to Minutes

To cope with the withdrawal from 30 years of nicotine addiction, I had to return to the one-day-at-a-time principle with modification.  It was torture to go through an entire day without using nicotine, so I had to break the day into smaller increments: For the next one minute I will not use smokeless tobacco or return to smoking.  Pretty soon I’d gone an entire day, then a week, then a month, then a year.

As of this writing and through the grace of God, I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in 17,979 days and haven’t used nicotine for 15,165,000 minutes.  

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1Corinthians 10:13).

 P.S. I thought of three other endings for life by the mile: 1) Is vile. 2) Is a bucket of bile. 3) Won’t make you smile. 

 © 2023 by Don Umphrey

The New International Version” and “NIV” are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Used by permission.


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