Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast

February 5, 1981

Mr. Chairman, Congressman Hefner, and all of you ladies and gentlemen:

Nancy and I are delighted to be here, and I want to thank you for the day in my life that you recognized in starting off my celebration of my 31st anniversary of my 39th birthday. [Laughter] But to all of you, to the many who are here from across the world and the different lands -- and as the chairman told us earlier, I was surprised to learn that we are joined this morning by meetings of this kind in places that might be surprising to some: on naval vessels, military bases, even in penal institutions, all across our land.

You have taken Nancy and me back to a nostalgic time, because I have found myself remembering at occasions like this, in a hotel dining room not quite so grand or not quite so large, but the Governor's Breakfasts of Sacramento. And they were always enriching, spiritual experiences, and I think maybe -- I haven't checked with Nancy about her -- but I think for both of us I could say that this morning we are freed from the last vestige of homesickness.

I would like to tell just a little story. It was given to me by a friend on a printed card, author unknown. Now, I don't know how widely this has been distributed, or whether some of you or many of you are aware of it. I'm going to tell it anyway.

This unknown author wrote of a dream and in the dream was walking down the beach beside the Lord. And as they walked, above him in the sky was reflected each stage and experience of his life. Reaching the end of the beach, and of his life, he turned back and looked back down the beach and saw the two sets of footprints in the sand, except that he looked again and realized that every once in a while there was only one set of footprints. And each time there was only one set of footprints, it was when the experience reflected in the sky was one of of despair, of desolation, of great trial or grief in his life.

And he turned to the Lord and said, ``You said that if I would walk with You, You would always be beside me and take my hand. Why did You desert me? Why are You not there in my times of greatest need?'' And the Lord said, ``My child, I did not leave you. Where you see only one set of footprints, it was there that I carried you.''

Abraham Lincoln once said, ``I would be the most foolish person on this footstool earth if I believed for one moment that I could perform the duties assigned to me without the help of one who is wiser than all.'' I know that in the days to come and the years ahead there are going to be many times when there will only be one set of footprints in my life. If I did not believe that, I could not face the days ahead.

Note: The President spoke at 8:58 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his opening remarks, he referred to Representative Elwood H. Hillis of Indiana, chairman of the National Prayer Breakfast Congressional Committee, which sponsored the breakfast.