Here I was again, straddling the top tube of my mountain bike on the edge of the rock drop, looking down at the gently sloped hill. The dirt was well-packed and mostly smooth—good for a safe landing after getting some air.
My friends and my son urged me on. “C’mon. You’ve got this.”
Why was this rock drop so intimidating to me? I wasn’t sure. I had cleared it years earlier without mishap. My buddies hit it regularly. Earlier that day I followed a 6-year-old who landed it easily. It was getting increasingly embarrassing every time I rode around it.
That rock drop had gotten into my head. The real obstacle wasn’t the rock itself, but my thinking about it. I had fallen into a trap of my own autopilot; over three years I had literally trained my brain and body to take the easier path, and every time I took that path, I reinforced the pattern. I had developed subconscious muscle grooves more worn than the trails at the bike park.
Our brains are wonderfully made by our Creator. Pastor and clinical psychologist Wes Beavis told me our brains are able to automate many everyday tasks, reducing future effort. Plus, our brains tend to choose comfort (pleasure) over discomfort (pain).
The problem is that “many of our negative thoughts operate in an automatic fashion” too, according to Jeffrey S. Nevid in a Psychology Today blog.
People often get trapped in a negative repeating pattern of thought or action initially caused by the brain’s proclivity to protect us from pain. Some of these patterns may have begun years ago, even in childhood. These patterns become self-destructive when they keep us from moving forward in a full and meaningful life.
Getting trapped in unhealthy patterns plays out in many ways in people’s lives, many which go beyond the scope of this article. I do often wonder, however, why so many folks avoid getting involved in small groups, serving on teams at church, going on mission trips, and other worthwhile spiritual activities . . . while these same people work 70-plus hours a week or come home from their job each day and veg out on the couch all night watching the same old TV programs they’ve seen 20 times before.
Part of the problem, I think, involves the safe, predictable patterns they’ve fallen into over the years. When we encourage people to get involved in ministry, we often fight against these deeply ingrained habitual traps.
I can easily justify those excuses, but I know that life—the abundant life—was never meant to be safe or easy. Jesus calls his followers to something costly and risky. We were designed by our Creator to live in a wild adventure with him, often going into the unfamiliar and unknown.
We are called, like Abraham, to go on a journey with God, even if we don’t know where we’re going. We’re compelled, like Paul, to go places God has called us to, though we don’t know what will happen to us there.
A life worth living is one with obstacles—whether mere rock drops or huge mountains—which God empowers us to overcome.
Watching a screen demands little of us. And when little is demanded of us, when our commitment to Christ is weakened, the church is compromised. Our devotion “to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” occurs in the environment of a community in which “all the believers [are] together” (Acts 2:42, 44).
“Sometimes we need to ‘check ourselves before we wreck ourselves,’” says Mark Parrish, who leads a Louisville counseling service. To gain full vision of the problem, he says, you need “the courage to reach out to others around you for feedback.” This is so vital for our emotional health, he says, because “seeds of doubt can grow into full jungles with emotional watering cans.”
This decision of the will is influenced by both your mind and heart (emotions). You are transformed, says Paul, “by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2, New Living Translation). This takes surrender of the easier path. For Jesus, this meant, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
I finally made the jump. The first attempt was a bit clumsy; I landed a bit too front-wheel heavy because I didn’t have enough speed, but everything was fine. My son and friends let out a whoop, and so did I. I had broken out of my habitual loop and finally felt free. The next time I hit the drop with a bit more speed and it was smoother. Now I’m ready for bigger jumps!
And so will our people who are stuck in their own habitual traps. Getting back to in-person services may be just the first new obstacle they clear on the exciting, joyful path of following Christ.