When I was in high school my mom took me to the doctor to discuss my depression and anxiety. To determine the severity of my symptoms I was asked to fill out a survey of questions. Most of them were easy, but I got stuck when faced with the question: “Do you have difficulty making decisions?” Well, I couldn’t decide. I mean sometimes it was easy to make a decision and other times not, so I skipped that question and came back to it later before it dawned on me that I am a living metaphor.
Some decisions are easy—others, not so much. Like this sign that hangs in our kitchen:
“If you had to choose between tacos or being thin, would you choose hard or soft tacos?”
Doug mentioned a few weeks ago that we make around 35,000 decisions a day—which is just bonkers. I mean, no wonder we’re all walking around, incapable of deciding what to have for dinner!? We’re done. We’ve made too many decisions already.
Apparently we call this “Decision Fatigue”—but the truth is, most of these decisions, we don’t really think about. We just do them. We go to the grocery store, and to work, we walk the dog, and we take out the recycling, we make the tacos and write the emails. We adult. We do the things.
But where it gets tricky is that while we’re busy doing all that, there’re all these squishy, unnamed things going on below the surface.
And so when something comes along like a tragedy or diagnosis or even just a conflict that wasn’t planned, it pokes at those unnamed things below the surface.
It’s why we’re so resistant to change. Change unearths the unnamed things. The scary things. The things we don’t even know are there.
If you’ve ever taken a course in physics, I guarantee your first lesson was on Inertia: “An object at rest tends to stay at rest, an object in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted upon by an external force.”
But a simpler definition is “resistance to change.” For instance: you hate looking at peoples’ feet and yet you stay in your job as a shoe salesman year after year. Why? Inertia. Resistance to change.
In today’s story from Luke, Peter is the shoe salesman. “We’ve been fishing all night long and haven’t caught anything!” he says. His reality is fixed and he’s convinced that this’s just how it is. Why would going out into the samelake, in the sameboat, with the samenets turn out differently? And we can’t blame him; we’re all guilty of this.
Inertia isn’t just resistance to change, it’s what keeps us stuck. Because inertia is what tells us “It will always be this way. You won’t overcome this. You’ll never get past this. This relationship is permanently broken. Things won’t be good again. You’ll always do this thing you hate. You’ll never do that thing you love.” And the longer we sit and listen to that voice the longer we stay stuck on the shoreline with no fish, or in a life we don’t love, or in an institution that would rather die than change.
Some years back Methodist bishop Will Willimon attended a lecture by Jim Wallis on “The Renewal of the Inner City Church.” Most of the attendees were, like Willimon and myself, mainline protestant pastors.
Wallis told the pastors true stories of declining inner-city churches that had, by the grace of God, rediscovered their mission and begun to thrive. But in the Q&A afterwards one pastor after another criticized Wallis’s speech. They accused him of looking at the church through rose-colored glasses. One even implied that he had lied.
Later that evening Willimon told Wallis that he was appalled by the group’s reaction. “I wasn’t,” Wallis said. “That’s the reaction I always get from mainline, liberal pastors. They’re amazed when God wins. Scared to death that Easter just might, after all, be true.”
Inertia: convincing and powerful enough to keep us stuck on Saturday when Sunday’s already come.
When I was in first grade my cousin and I took the bus to school; and the bus stop just happened to be in front of the really scary house. You might not know this but it’s a requirementfor every neighborhood to have a scary house. And so we would stand at the very tip of the driveway as far away from the house as we could, because the house had all these signs on it: “Beware of dog”, “No trespassing”, “No solicitors.” And I had no idea what a solicitor was because I was in first grade, but I really hoped I wasn’t one.
Well, sometimes I think we treat our souls like a scary house. We put signs all over it like “No Trespassing”, “Keep out”, “Beware.” And we don’t even give ourselvespermission to go near it, much less go inside. So we accept our thirty-five-thousand-decisions-a-day life as a fixed reality, and spend the majority of our lives oblivious to our deep fears and desires, and we accept that this is just how it is.
Only it’s not. Not for Peter, and not for us. Peter, who begins this story as an empty-handed fisherman, ends up a full-fledged disciple. Same boat, same lake, same nets—but Peter’s reality changes when he acts on Jesus’s instruction to take the boat out into the deep water—when he loses sight the shore, and goes deeper, unearthing those scary, unnamed places below the surface.
We justify our rut because the idea of an entire overhaul is too hard. But the truth is, most of the time it only takes a nudge, a twist of the dial, a few small changes to set us in motion.
Sometimes all we need is somebody walking along our shoreline to stop and help us push our little boat out of its rut and encourage us into the deep water where our boat can get “good and rocked.” Somebody to help us name the unnamed things.
Friday afternoon, Holly got a panicked call from one of her former colleagues at the funeral home. The clergy for Saturday’s funeral had backed out and they couldn’t find any one—could Holly do it? The funeral was for a 30-year old man who had a history of drug abuse. Holly said his family could have been either of our families. They were loving and supportive and their pictures looked just like our family photos from the 80’s. And, even though they aren’t sure yet exactly what happened, they asked if she could not talk about the drug use. It was too raw, too real and there was too much that couldn’t be named.
So, she steered clear of it and simply told stories of a beautiful, beloved, funny, kind son.
But, then his mother summoned up her courage to speak and she—Holly said—did the real preaching.
She didn’t mince her words and began to tell people about her boy, her boy who loved the mountains, and stuffed-animals, and his mama and who made a bad decision to use drugs and how it destroyed him. She spoke about how angry she was. She spoke to those who were probably using right then and there, she spoke to those of us with other addictions, problems, and pain, and she named it. What once was too scary and had “Do not enter” signs plastered allover became instead a mother standing in front of people: moved, changed, in-motion hoping to move, change and put others in-motion. Heartbroken and devastated, she resisted inertia, went into deep water, and instead of shunning painful words made an anthem out of them.
Friends, nothing is beyond change.
Gun laws, addictions, broken relationships, racism, power, selfish consumption, unused-potential—none of it is beyond change.
I promiseyou this true; and do you know whyI can promise you that? Because thisliberal, mainline protestant pastor still believes in Easter; still believes that there’s almost nothingthat doesn’t have the capacity to get better, to change, to begin.
So take down the “No Trespassing” signs, walk inside your soul and tellGod what you want…nameyour fears and your desires, and by God, expect an outbreak of Easter.
We think our reality is fixed; that by praying “thy will be done” that God’s got it all taken care of and isn’t really interested in what we desire for our life or for our children or for this planet or for this church. But if this miraculous little story from Luke teaches us anything—it’s that NO reality is fixed, that it does get better, and that all people and places, systems and institutions have the promise and the permission to change.
And so…my dear First & Central, resist with me!
Go forth and make the call, set the appointment, start the conversation, send in the application, schedule the meeting, see your therapist, write the email, get up an hour earlier, sign up for the class, talk to your boss, pray with expectancy, show up for your life, and expect God to show up for you too. I guarantee…it’s the easiest decision God’s ever made.