I spend a lot of time in the car. With over 30 years of driving experience, I pride myself in being a good driver who is well-prepared and always thinking ahead.
Especially when it comes to fuelling the car. In fact, I have rarely ever let the gas gauge go much less than half full. Whenever I’ve noticed others pushing their car to the gas pump, I would secretly harbour disdain for them: “Stupid! Why would you even let yourself run out of fuel when you know you are running out of gas?!!! Plan ahead, idiot!”
Others have loved to road trip with me because I am the one always thinking ahead, anticipating and watching out for where we could stop for cheap gas along the journey — I am the responsible car operator!
Until this past week.
There are at least two ways to tell how much fuel you have: First, there is the traditional gauge with the little red needle that fluctuates between F for full and E for empty. In the new cars you can also toggle a button on your dash displaying how many kilometres you can still travel on the amount of gas you have. And it was this latter feature — this guidance system — that I chose to depend on in planning my road trip to Waterloo.
I filled up at Costco Monday morning and flipped the switch to show that I could travel 570 kilometres before I needed to refuel. According to Google Maps, the distance between Ottawa and where I was going in Kitchener was 528 kilometres. So, I concluded, I could make that trip on one tank of gas, especially since the gas station I was aiming for in Kitchener had the cheapest gas in the region. Sounds like a good plan, right? I wouldn’t have to stop. I could make better time. I wouldn’t have to pay the exorbitant gas prices along the 401.
As I travelled throughout the day I noticed the red needle make its slow but steady plunge towards the E. By the time I arrived in Cambridge (between Toronto and Kitchener) the trip counter showed I could still go 30 kilometres before I would run out of gas. Okay. But I was embroiled in one of those famous car parks along the 401. Happy to say, it didn’t take too long, even though by now the red needle was sitting on E. As I was flying along Highway 8 in Kitchener a handful of kilometres from the cheap gas station, the indicator still had me for 19 kilometres. My other eye kept looking at the red needle, which hadn’t moved at all still resting on empty.
I stopped at a red light very close to that gas station. I was still good for 19 kilometres. I looked around me and the other cars in the intersection waiting for the light to turn, feeling smug that everything was going smoothly according to my plan. Then, I looked down at the trip-counter, and to my horror it read: “0” kilometres left. How did it go suddenly from 19 to 0? I figured, I still had a few hundred metres to go. I would be running on fumes. And I just made it, without having to push my car to the pump. It was close!
It is vital to know which way of thinking, which guidance system, is informing our behaviour and the decisions we make. My decision to trust the trip counter instead of the fuel gauge made a difference in the way I experienced my journey.
What beliefs, what values, which guidance systems are informing the decisions you are making now in your life — especially in the midst of stress, loss, and increased anxiety? It’s important to step back and uncover this stuff.
What we do is based on beliefs that go deep. Often, like an iceberg, those beliefs are hidden, unacknowledged, under-the-surface — even though they constitute the main part, the main reason, for what we do. For the most part, we deal with what’s above the water line. This is where we operate most of the time. Without going underneath the surface, we end up leading shallow lives, simply reacting to what happens and going in circles.
I’ve quoted Albert Einstein before: “you can’t solve a problem with the same way of thinking that caused the problem in the first place.”
Admittedly, this is how we normally have done things: we react, we knee-jerk, into similar, surface kinds of responses based on assumptions closer to the surface. We respond to a stupid remark by giving an equally stupid remark. When there is a disagreement, we jump into a relational food-fight to see who can yell louder — as if this is supposed somehow solve the problem.
When I took history in public school, it was still during the Cold War; my teachers described the problem that the super-powers were caught in by calling it: “Mutually-Assured-Destruction” — the slippery slope to an unsustainable reality. How would it stop, when both sides stockpiled more and more nuclear weapons to show their enemy who was stronger? The anacronym for mutually-assured-destruction is true: It is MAD! It doesn’t lead us anywhere constructive. In fact, it is the path towards the demise of all that is.
Are we aware of the ordinary patterns of our thinking? If so, to begin with, we can give thanks. To a degree, those ways of thinking may have served us well throughout our lives, to a point. Without ditching them altogether, are we at the same time aware of deeper currents and other ways of approaching life’s challenges? I would hope so, because when life happens and we run low on gas, we have decisions to make. The question is: According to which way of thinking?
Paul concludes in the passage we read from his second letter to the Corinthian church: “We regard no one from a human [read, ‘ordinary’] point of view … So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)
How do we get to the ‘new’? I don’t believe we have to wait until we die, to get to the new. Someone wise once said, “The truth will set you free. But first it will make you miserable.” Whatever good, whatever new life we receive is necessarily preceded by some pain and what some have called: “necessary suffering.”
We resist this, quite naturally, in our personal lives and in the life of the church. And yet, the truth stares us in the face: No pain, no gain. You cannot circumnavigate grief, for example. You cannot trick life by avoiding conflict, another example. You cannot grow and mature without first letting go of something that is holding you back. All this causes some pain, yes. And on the other side of that suffering is the new creation.
This takes courage, resolve and determination to behave according to a different mind-set. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Paul writes to the Roman church (12:2). Renewing the mind involves taking some risk, responding differently from your usual pattern, stepping out of our comfort zones into places of discomfort. It may even feel like a momentary affliction. I had to experience the unexpected anxiety of trying another way of planning my road trips in order to learn something new, so that I am better equipped to plan for fuel stops along the way, next time I drive to Waterloo.
Talking about the new thing, wanting it will not make it happen. We first need to face the harder truth. Neale Donald Walsch writes: “Yearning for a new way will not produce it. Only ending the old way can do that. You cannot hold onto the old while declaring that you want something new. The old will defy the new; the old will deny the new; the old will decry the new. There is only one way to bring in the new. You must make room for it.” (nealedonaldwalsch.com)
Making room will not guarantee anything. Making room will not make it happen. An yet, making room creates the space in our lives for grace. I think in the parable today (Mark 4:26-34), we can place ourselves in the role of the ‘someone’ who scatters the seed — the seed being the work we do and the hopes and dreams of our lives. You can call it, our work to surrender ourselves.
We scatter the seed — our prayer for letting go for the good to come. We have to give it away. The results, the sprouting and growing, are beyond our doing. And then, the miracle happens. Then, the smallest seeds of our hearts become, with God’s work, something wonderful and great where even “the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
That’s what we can look forward to.