What Does Eating an Elephant One Bite at a Time Mean?

Eating Something That Big Takes Real Determination

Most of us have heard the saying, “Eat an elephant one bite at a time.” At first glance, this phrase seems a little far out there for those of us in the middle of the United States. It’s not like there’s a lot of elephants around to eat.

This phrase is used when referring to how we can accomplish a large daunting goal through a series of smaller tasks.

A normal serving size of meat is between a half pound and three quarters of a pound. As we all have different sized mouths, it’s hard to know exactly how many bites are in a serving, but 10-15 bites are considered a good serving. In Africa the forest elephants are normally between 5,000 – 6,000 pounds of meat. (Thank you Skyler)

This means to eat an average-sized elephant it will take around…154,000 bites.

We are all faced with large, overwhelming undertakings, some bigger than others. Sonia shared a story about a large endeavor in the children’s message. She told me about a bicycle padlock that her brother had when they were kids. The problem was…nobody in the family knew the combination.

She said there were 10,000 options to finding the right combination with a four number padlock. She started in and after 4500 tries she got it. This was a pretty big elephant and a lot of bites.

This was some real determination.

The key to accomplishing any big task is determination and taking the first step.

This is what Paul was doing in Acts as he continually went from town to town sharing God’s message. It was a big and dangerous undertaking, but he was determined to eat the next bite.

In Acts 20:17-24 he told the people in Ephesus, “You know everything I did during the time I was with you when I first came to Asia. Some of the Jews plotted against me and caused me a lot of sorrow and trouble. But I served the Lord and was humble. When I preached in public or taught in your homes, I didn’t hold back from telling anything that would help you. I told Jews and Gentiles to turn to God and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

I don’t know what will happen to me in Jerusalem, but I must obey God’s Spirit and go there. In every city I visit, I am told by the Holy Spirit that I will be put in jail and will be in trouble in Jerusalem. But I don’t care what happens to me, as long as I finish the work the Lord Jesus gave me to do. And this work is to tell the good news about God’s gift of undeserved grace.”

Like Paul we all have a purpose. It may not be preaching like Paul’s but is just as important. It may be the way we treat co-workers and customers; it may be in raising our children; it may be community service. Whatever it is that we’ve been put here to do…

We need to stay the course and keep eating the elephant one bite after another. Start chewing.

Life is Like Removing a Clothesline Pole

You Never Know How Big the Hole Will be Until You Start Digging

Have you ever had a vision for something that you weren’t sure what needed to be done or how to do it? If you’re not careful planning and analyzing can lead to overthinking and overthinking is just another word for procrastination.

Overthinking has kept me from accomplishing things too many times.

My assistant Cathleen had a vision for creating a safe place in the small back yard for her young daughter to play. This vision included a trampoline and swing set. The problem was two clothesline poles in the way. Compounding the problem…they were set in concrete.

She started digging around the first one. She had no way of knowing how much concrete was around the pipe or how deep in the ground it went. After a few days of digging and more concrete than expected, the hole was getting pretty big.

She did not let overthinking stop her from moving forward with her vision. 

Some people would say that in her youth and lack of experience she bit off more than she could chew. She could have done more research and procrastinated over this for a while. She could have saved up some money and hired a professional. She did neither…she started digging.

The importance of getting this play area ready for Luna was the determination she needed to push toward the vision. After digging for a while, she could have quit, but she didn’t. She had an objective, she knew what it was, and nothing was going to stop her.

Determination and action kept her moving forward.

There was a point in the process where it was evident that she wasn’t physically going to get the pipe and concrete out of the hole. After some re-evaluation and research, it was decided to cut the pipes off. She needed some help with this, and I happened to have a cutting torch. After this was done the dirt was put back in the hole burying the concrete and a trampoline was set up.

Cathleen’s project is no different than any other endeavor we face. It may turn out to be bigger and more time consuming than expected. There may be unanticipated circumstances that raise questions and create doubt. We may need to incorporate some help to achieve our goal.

Moving forward and not overthinking is critical to getting things done.

By nature, I’m a thinker and planner. Too often I procrastinate by overthinking everything. This is compounded by a long list of things to think about and plan for. There are so many people to help and things that need done. It’s easy to be overwhelmed when standing in the shadow of a huge mountain that needs moved.

What makes the mountain ominous is trying to figure out every detail that we’re going to encounter before we start. Are we going to run into rock, how much, what will we do with it when we do…and on and on? Thinking keeps us from moving anything and the mountain just stands there.

When Cathleen saw her vision of Luna’s place to play, she started digging. She didn’t let the size of the mountain stop her. We need to take a lesson from Cathleen.

This isn’t to say that planning isn’t important, because it is. If we don’t have a plan the vision gets stuck as a dream. Like building any construction project, you need to have a plan, but nothing gets built until we move some dirt.

If you’re going to achieve your goals and accomplish your vision, you need to do some shoveling today.