Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Shifting Into Neutral

Shift: | SH ift | verb: to change one's emphasis, direction, or focus.

That pretty well describes what all of our lives are life this time of year. We shift from swimming pools into the school calendar. We shift from summer break into work projects. We shift from missions trip and summer camps straight into another full slate of ministry responsibilities. It's almost as if we never stop. We've somehow conditioned ourselves that going from one activities to the next is a good thing.

If you've ever driven a stick shift car, you know how much different the experience is from an automatic. You
take off faster from the stop lights, you accelerate quicker out of traffic, but best of all, you are in control of what the engine does. With an automatic it's all so...well, automatic. There is no thinking involved. The car just does it all for you. But with an a stick (or standard) you get to decide when the engine shifts gears. I believe God has made life to be the same way. Instead of letting our calendars, activities and projects (all of which may be good things) control our pace, we must figure out how and when to go from one event to the next. Otherwise, we lose our joy in the journey. I regularly meet parents who love their kids but resent their every-other-weekend soccer tournaments. I meet pastors who love ministry but loathe the endless church calendar of events. Somewhere along the way they end up feeling trapped by life. But God meant for life to be full and exciting and rewarding.

There is one other small details about a stick shift engine that go easily unnoticed. Whenever you shift the engine from one gear to the next there is a brief second when
the engine is in neutral. The car doesn't just amp itself up from zero to sixty. It goes something like this: You hit the accelerator, the car speeds up, it gets to a maximum speed in that gear so you shift [pause] and suddenly the car is able to go even faster.

Far too often in our lives we go from one activity to the next fueling ourselves from the rush of the last event thinking we are somehow superhuman and have an endless reservoir of energy. We miss the importance of the pause. That brief moment to shift into neutral. To catch our breath. To reflect on why we are even on this journey in the first place.

The Missing Seventh Day

God himself is our example of how to enjoy the pause. We all know the story. It's one of the first story you learn if you grew up in church: in six day God created the earth, then on the seventh day He rested. It's not just the story of how the earth was created. It also speaks into the rhythm of creation and what should be a healthy rhythm for us as well.

Creativity and Productivity are a good thing. But in order to take full advantage of the creativity, gifts, and abilities God has given me, I must be willing to rest and enjoy the pause. If I don't let my engine have that brief second to shift into neutral, it would burn out the engine. I'm realizing that the same is true of my life.

I wish I could say I've got this whole thing figured out but I don't. Just like most people, I easily fall back into a routine of letting my day control me instead of me controlling my day. But the past few years have been a great exercise in trying to be a different kind of family. One that finds time to invest in one another. One that stops and enjoys a book or game together. One that doesn't feel the need to always be "on the go." It's a shift I love more every week.