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  • Writer's pictureRalph Felzer

Old Ruts and New Resolutions



"Waybread" is food designed to strengthen travelers on a long journey.  This little weekly column is intended to offer reflections that will strengthen and encourage you in your own long journey in following Christ.


OLD RUTS AND NEW RESOLUTIONS


Okay, so a couple weeks ago I wished you all a Happy New Year (10,000 totally fictional bonus points to anyone who remembers WHY I did that at the end of November!).  BZZT … time's up–it's because week 1 of Advent begins a new Christian liturgical year.  Well that, of course, means that it's also time for New Year's resolutions.  I know, I know….  Most of us have given up on these, haven't we?  But I'd like for us to try to think more freshly about this.

I've been thinking a lot lately about ruts and old habits and ways of doing things that aren't necessarily helpful or productive in any way, they're just the way we've learned over time to manage the stuff of everyday living.  And most of the time, we've just fallen into these ruts rather than chosen them, right?  


Ask anyone in my family, and they'll tell you I'm the King of Ruts!  After I retired from teaching and took up my associate pastor role, my life took on a whole new shape.  I intentionally took the month of June off to help transition from my teaching life to my pastoring life, but to be honest, it's been a challenging adjustment.  It's been hugely rich and joyful and rewarding, but getting out of my old ruts has often felt awkward.  I've told several people that it's been a move from a highly structured life to a hardly structured life.  I miss my students at Toledo Christian immensely, but I don't miss one bit the down-to-the-minute lesson plans, the never-knowing-what's-around-the-corner developments, homework, essay grading, and bells ringing every 48 minutes.  My life is just as full, but it's nowhere near as regimented or as deadline driven, and while some people thrive in an environment like that, I'm not one of them.  It's been draining just not having a regular schedule of deadlines!


So I can't help wondering what ruts you find yourself in.  Even the most spontaneous of us are creatures of habit.  I can hear some of you out there right now:  "No way!  I thrive on never knowing what's next, on meeting the next person, or taking on the next challenge, or even taking a different route to work in the morning!"  But I'm here to tell you that if that's you, your very spontaneity has become a rut.  And the way for you to get out of that rut is the same as it is for me:  Shake it up!  Do it differently (no matter what "it" is).  You can either choose the change or wait for something or someone to force you into it–choose it!  True, it can be draining, just as my own new lifestyle has been, but that doesn't make it a bad thing, even if it does feel awkward.  


PLOWING THE SOIL


And here is the most important thing I want to say today:  You don't want to change just to change; you want to change in order to become more like Jesus.


You see, we all found our way into these rut-lives of ours by accident, by default; we probably just drifted into them.  But the key is that you won't just drift out of them!  The only way out of a rut is through intention–a new choice, a different choice, maybe even a jarring choice.  And the only way we'll make that kind of change is if the payoff for change is better than the payoff for stagnation.


And here is the most important thing I want to say today:  You don't want to change just to change; you want to change in order to become more like Jesus.

So my question for you today is this:  What do you want?  And are you willing to step out (jump out? leap out? tear yourself out?) of your rut?  Which rut?  What difference do you want to see?  Again, what do you want?  Who do you want to be?  (I don't mean what kind of job do you want, but what kind of person do you want to be?)  What do you long for, thirst for?  What are you willing to stay up late dreaming about instead of lying in bed, well … dreaming?


(And let me challenge you here to reawaken perhaps the dream you died to, probably years ago.  The dream you were frustrated in, that you gave up on, that always seemed to move farther off whenever you grasped for it.  Are you courageous enough to try again?  To reach out even if it does exceed your grasp yet again?  Even now, I wonder if Jesus isn't asking you, as he asked the blind Bartimaeus, "What do you want me to do for you?"  Are you willing to shout for Jesus' attention, or will you just settle … again?  Hint: We have a Lifechange class on Prayer coming up in January!)


You may have a very clear idea of the rut you want to get out of, but if you're like most people, I suspect you have a vague longing to change, but you don't really know where to start, or if it'll work, or if you're even steering for the right star.  But especially if you don't know where to turn next, let me give you three ways to plow up the soil in those ruts of yours!  Both are very practical–both will make you a little uncomfortable (but you're after the payoff, remember?).


PLOW #1

Immerse yourself in God's Word.  No, I don't mean just "read your Bible"!  I mean immerse yourself in God's Word.  You want to steep in it like a teabag.  When you let God's Word into the hot mess (oops, I mean the hot water) of your life–and you sit there with it just in you–your life begins to look different and taste different, to you and to those around you.  The Word itself changes us–you don't have to make anything happen; the burden is on God to change you, not on you to change yourself!  (That doesn't mean you don't have to do anything, it just means the work begins with God's grace and your permission.)  Before very long, your whole life becomes a source of strength and refreshment rather than just trouble (but it takes hot water to make that happen!).  If you want some practical suggestions for how to get into the Word, go read the last Waybread article.


The way I've done this is to use the Daily Readings in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) for my morning devotions, but a month or so ago I became aware of a new version of the BCP that came out in 2019 that has morning and evening readings, and I really wanted to do that.  But here's where the rut comes in–for the whole first week of Advent (I wanted to start on "New Year's"!) I haven't been able to remember to do the evening reading before I went to bed–I was trying to get into a new rut, but "muscle memory" wouldn't let me.  But I persisted and things are going better–and I love being in the Word both at the beginning and the end of my day.  It felt like a real victory just reading the Word before bedtime, but it took a week!   That's the nature of ruts, though, right?  Don't give up!


PLOW #2

Put the technology away.  Talk to anybody I know and they'll tell you that I'm on my phone/device less than just about anyone they know.  I don't carry my phone with me wherever I go.  I don't take it with me into meetings.  I leave it in the car when I'm out and about.  It even sits on the kitchen table most of the time when I'm at home.  BUT….  I use my iPad like most people use their phones.  When I'm sitting at home, it's usually right next to me, and when Sandy and I are watching Shetland, or Chip and Joanna Gaines, or Alone I'll pick it up and just start scrolling.  


I don't think this is healthy.  (I'm not judging you, I'm judging me!)  I've been convicted lately about being fully present to whatever I'm doing and whoever I'm with, so I'm going to start keeping it in another room (at least Sandy will still have her phone handy–phew!).  But even though I feel this conviction, and even though I'm not as "addicted" to my device as many people are, this is really hard!  But remember the payoff idea from earlier?  The payoff here is not just watching a TV show without scrolling through social media.  No, friend, the payoff is being fully present to one thing, to one person, and that can make a huge difference in my whole life, in the quality of my work and the depth of my relationships.  I refuse to be that guy who can't sit by himself (or even with friends) without picking up his phone.  Why can't we just … talk?  (It's like saying, "I like you, I really do, but I need a little more stimulation right now than just sitting here with you.  Besides, I might be missing a text or a TikTok that frankly is a little more interesting than hearing you say … I'm sorry, what were you saying again?")


Okay, I have to say one more thing about this because I'm upset about what this is doing to me and what it's doing to us.  I've noticed that I want to pick up my iPad because I'm itching for more stimulation than I'm getting from whatever we're watching.  My kids would say the show is "too slow," but it's not the show–it's me!  And where does this itch come from?  It's the fruit of the habit (rut?) of constant technological stimulation.  We've allowed our devices to program the length of our attention spans, and to dictate the attention we pay to the people around us–they're people, image-bearers, not dopamine dispensers!  


PLOW #3

Sign up for a Lifechange class.  (Or something like it, such as Jean Holt's Advent blog, which is an excellent way to engage in this Advent season.)  We don't have to do life entirely by ourselves!  We weren't made to and we're not intended to.  We need each other.  If we want to be like Jesus, and allow our lives to reflect His, we'll never get there just by grunting it out.  Lifechange is a means of helping us navigate our way to life in Christ together, but sometimes we need a helping hand out of the ruts we're in.


So regardless how you feel about New Year's resolutions, let me challenge you to take hold of the grace Jesus is holding out to you!  Don't let disappointment, discomfort, or discouragement rob you of the opportunity to step up and out of the rut you're in–even if the rut has become a mire!


Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.


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