They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, hoping to achieve a different result.
I think I was coming home from shopping when I first moved in with my husband. I pulled into the driveway, heading for what would become my "usual spot", right in front of the garage. Now, our driveway needs some work, to say the least. Between the remnants of blacktop and a few odd patch jobs here and there, I thought my tire was caught in a low spot when my car stopped suddenly. I didn't appear to be close enough to the garage, so I backed up and went forward again. I stopped suddenly again. Determined to get over that hole or hump or chunk of driveway that I just assumed was in my way, I backed up and went forward once again.
The whole time, my husband, who was cutting the grass, began shouting from the yard, "HEY! HEY! HEY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? STOP!! STO-O-O-O-O-P!!!!" It wasn't a hole in the driveway preventing me from moving forward. It was the garage door.
Eddie Ray must've thought he married a total nut job. Talk about misjudging! I not only misjudged what was preventing me from moving forward, I also misjudged the front end of my car (a car I've been driving for several years) and where I was supposed to be in our driveway. What makes this episode my husband's favorite among my many "DUH" moments is that I appeared to be so determined to drive that car right through our garage door. "You just kept backing up and going for it!"
Don't we do this sort of thing all the time? We hit a roadblock. We stop. We back up. We we try again, hitting what we think is another roadblock over and over---never considering that we just might be misjudging the situation.
My father gave me some words of wisdom many years ago: "Whenever you think you understand what you're looking at, take a giant step back and look at the bigger picture. It sure don't look the same on a larger scale, does it?" In other words, don't just assume that you're looking at something in its proper perspective. Had I gotten out of the car and taken a look at what I was doing from just one step away, instead of continuing to do the same dumb thing over and over, I would have seen what I was doing wrong.
As I reflect on this incident, I am reminded of a document I came across a few months ago titled "The Second Bridge", written by James H. Dobbins back in 1996 (click here to read the entire article). Dobbins presents our spiritual life in three stages, beginning with what he describes as climbing a ladder to the first level of our understanding of God. The ladder leads from what he calls a great plain of souls to a first plateau, where we experience all of the initial fruits of that relationship with God. Upon reaching that first of three plateaus in our spiritual walk, "we have passed from indifference toward God, lukewarmness towards Him, to a growing fervor and desire to possess Him as fully as possible. We are tending to go beyond ourselves, and to make God the center of our lives instead of ourselves."
As we reach that second gate to the next level, or the first bridge as Dobbins calls it, some of us can't figure out how to cross the bridge, let alone make it through the gate (just like I couldn't figure out how to park my car in my own driveway). We just can't see that we're going about it all wrong. This is what Dobbins refers to as the second conversion. He tells us, "the need for this second conversion often comes as a surprise for us, usually because we do not know ourselves as well as we think."
Here's where stepping back and getting a better look at the bigger picture comes into play. When we do finally take a good look at ourselves from a distance, we can see exactly what it is that's preventing us from crossing that first bridge. Sometimes, though, we can't do it ourselves. There are times that the Lord blesses us with a person on that next plateau who can see where we're going wrong--kind of like my husband yelling at me from his much better view to stop before I took out the garage door.
Those on that next plateau after having crossed the second bridge can see those struggling on the first plateau so clearly: "[they] see their lay brethren still enamored with the latest car, or fashion, or vacation spot, or technology, or any of the hundred other things that seem so very important...devoting enormous amounts of time and money to all sorts of things having no spiritual value whatever." But if we aren't willing to stop and get a good look at ourselves, we'll be destined to wander around that first plateau, utterly stuck: "These people of God never seem to understand why they are still beginners in spirituality."
If only they would get out of the car and look at what they're doing.