When Surrender is Not an Option

10 05 2010

It was our second anniversary, and we were headed down a certain freeway that I now avoid with a superstitious dread.  The man in the green Nissan to my right decided to change lanes very quickly and without warning, which would have been tolerable if not for the fact that I was already in that space.  There’s this annoying principle of matter that says that no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time, which is why I reacted very quickly to save my car from certain destruction.  Unfortunately, there’s also a physical constant called a friction coefficient, which does not change no matter how fast a person’s reflexes are.  I avoided colliding with the reckless driver, but my car went into a fishtail, as the road beneath me seemed to turn into a well-greased slab of slightly melted ice.  It’s funny, really, how static friction is so much stronger than kinetic friction.  Once the car skids, the tires glide across the asphalt with amazing ease.  The next thing I knew, I was staring straight at the concrete divider.  I steered hard away from it, but I had to stomp on the gas to make the car move in the other direction again.  Merely turning the wheel wasn’t cutting it.  Then I was facing the other way, and I had to turn the wheel and hit the gas to get it back again.  Back and forth, and back and forth again, the car slid one way and then the next, and there seemed to be no getting it straight again.  When the blood was coursing through my veins with an adrenaline high like three pots of coffee, I felt like I was living life at two-hundred miles per hour.  Actually, that’s the speed of a nerve impulse, so I really was living at two-hundred, but I digress.  At least I was able to get the car into a predictable oscillation.  That, alone, was a small comfort.  Still, getting the tires to stop squealing and getting the car to move in a straight line again would have been nice.  I was surprised at exactly how much care was required to shrink the back and forth motion to a slight veering.  A little less gas each time and a gentler steering got it to a point where it was barely moving back and forth at all.  In fact, if the tires had not been skidding, my path of travel would have been perfectly normal.

But the tires were still skidding.  I could not simply return to normal driving, or I would end up crunched like an empty soda can against the concrete wall.  Fighting the great back and forth movements was scary, but the battle was an easy one to fight.  Once the car was basically going straight, I found myself wondering what I was going to do next.  For the longest time, I was driving straight down the road with squealing tires that had about as much grip on the road as melted butter.  I was going straight, but only if I concentrated on it.  This was the hardest part, because I began to seriously consider whether the car would ever regain traction again.  It seemed to take forever, with no progress, and I was exhausted and shaking.

What unnerves me most about the event is that an idea crossed my mind that there really was nothing left to do but let the car do its own thing and be done with it, to give up and have a collision.  But…no matter how unbearable the situation was at the time, the alternative had to be worse.  No matter how long this continued, even if I felt that I couldn’t do it anymore, there was never any point in giving up.

“What do I do now?!” I wondered again and again.  The car was going straight, for crying out loud!  Then I tried taking my foot completely off of the gas and let the road move the wheels.  Eventually, enough friction between the two got them moving at the same speed and in the same direction.  After what seemed like forever, the squealing subsided, and I was back to driving the same as normal.  I was shaking like a leaf, and the world seemed several times brighter than midday sunlight, but we were alive, and the tires were gripping the road again.

Years later, I was riding in the back seat of someone else’s car, and I heard the familiar squeal of someone else’s car coming the other way.  At first, I couldn’t tell which car it was, because they were all moving straight ahead.  A man in a large truck had gone into a fishtail and managed to get it under control, in so much as that he was going straight, but his tires were still slipping and sliding along.  In that moment, I knew what he was thinking, and he chose the option of surrender.  From a straight path of travel, he suddenly swerved right, into the car beside him, then left, into another car.  He got his truck to a stop, but he had to wreck it and a couple of others to do so.  In that moment of fatigue, when there seemed to be no hope in sight, he chose the unthinkable alternative of surrender.  After getting it mostly under control, without regaining traction, he simply gave up.

I think of this now, because recently I saw the car in front of me fishtail, and the driver ultimately spun in circles and stopped, facing backward.  In fact, whenever I see the telltale wavy skid marks in the road, I watch to see what the outcome will be.  Almost always, they end in a great big loop like a question mark.

We fight, and we fight hard, and then we fight some more.  Then we wonder if there’s any hope, or we wonder if it’s worth the trouble.  No matter how unthinkable the alternative is, people usually give in to that unthinkable alternative.  Swerving back and forth is a nightmare, but it beats the alternative.  Life is full of such cases.  At what point do we give in to sin, say it’s too much temptation to bear?  How much is too much?  It’s never too much, because as long as we are still fighting, we are better off than the alternative.  Yet, there is a threshold for everyone, a point of striving beyond which they will not venture.  It’s the test of tenacity.

How seriously do you take your faith?  Will you keep it under adverse circumstances?  Will you keep it if those circumstances appear to have no end?  Is an endless arduous battle always better than the alternative?

In the words of Churchill, I say, never give up.

We are but weaklings, dwarfed by the martyrs who came before us.  We give in to little temptations where they held fast to the point of death.  Yet, though we can only hold fast in little ways, we can do so indefinitely, because it simply beats the alternative.  No matter how strong the drive to do that which God has condemned, we can and must always resist, because the alternative is absolutely unacceptable.  No one is granted a vacation from morality.  Personal preference isn’t worth crap.  You don’t stop fighting, and you never give up.  You work that lifestyle until the right thing becomes a habit.

When put to the test, you hold to righteousness even if it kills you, because the alternative is unacceptable.  Sometimes, surrender is just not an option.  Excuses won’t break your fall like the ground will.

Steering Into Disaster

25 03 2009

I see it all the time: there’s a tow truck at the side of the road, and the car in front of me, instead of hugging the opposite side of his lane actually veers toward the hazard.  If you’ve never seen such drivers, then you’re probably one of them.  It’s really a common phenomenon.  People tend to head toward what they’re watching, and they tend to watch the most interesting thing around, which is the hazard at the side of the road.  It’s totally unconscious.  If you were to ask them, they’d probably deny doing it.  Tow truck drivers get hit by cars that had plenty of room to avoid them.  That’s why I’ll never work as a tow truck driver.  If the passers-by had been focused on the empty space where they should have been guiding the car, then the collision never would have happened.

You head for whatever you focus your attention on.  If you spend your time thinking about a sin, then you’re probably going to commit that sin.  Yeah, sure, you’re just thinking about how to avoid that sin.  Don’t kid yourself.  Your conscious mind might be saying it, but it’s only a front for the subconscious.  A person could spend all day planning out how not to sin, only to commit the deed in the end.

People who are afraid that they won’t be able to sleep never get to sleep.  They lie awake all night thinking about how they can’t sleep.  Some people walk into a restroom afraid that they won’t be able to urinate.  No matter how badly they need to go, or how hard they try, they just can’t do it.  It’s not a physical problem, often, but a psychological one.   Some people think about breathing, and they wonder what would happen if they stopped consciously doing it.  They can’t stop consciously doing it, because they keep thinking about it, and the more they think about it the harder it is to breathe naturally.  Some people fear public speaking.  They’re so afraid that when they get on stage and open their mouths, nothing will come out.  Then, when the situation arises, that very fear paralyzes them and fulfills itself.

You don’t get to sleep by thinking about restlessness.  You get there by thinking about relaxing things.  You don’t avoid sin by thinking about it.  You avoid sin by thinking about things that are full of virtue.  It’s really the same principle.

People say that they can’t help it.

A truck driver can hold his need to use the restroom for so long that it backs up to his kidneys and causes kidney failure.  Prisoners on hunger strike  have denied themselves of food for so long that they starved to death.  Soldiers have been trained to hold their breath almost to the point of lethal suffocation.  What, then, is this wimpy temptation to sin?  Ordinary people can deny themselves of legitimate needs.  Certainly they can deny themselves of what they do not need.

Although it’s tempting to say that this world is full of new temptations that past generations never had, nothing could be further from the truth.  The essence of these things has always been around in one form or another, and, remarkably, for every soul who has been tempted, there has always been some jerk there to sell him what he wants.  Every temptation boils down to just a few basic, simple pleasures.  We’re only built to feel good in just so many ways, whether it be pride, relaxation, comfort, food or other physical amenity.  Every sin stems from a temptation, and every temptation can be traced to some simple thing innate in humanity, usually some stimulus meant to promote adaptive behavior.  People are most creative when it comes to satisfying simple pleasures, and it gets to the point of utter perversion at times.

That’s all it is, though, just a simple shallow feeling being satisfied temporarily.  It’s about as meaningful as putting on socks when your feet are cold.  It feels good, nothing more.  Sin is taking that simple reponse and blowing it out of proportion.  What it lacks in depth, it attempts to make up for in sheer volume.  Convenience is nice, because it promotes efficient behavior.  Yet, we take it to the point of killing inconvenient people, and tailgating slow drivers to coerce them into driving faster.  Pride is not all bad if it motivates us to make the best of ourselves.  Yet, we’ve turned it into a worship of ourselves, forsaking even the ideals of God in favor of our own.

Some people say that abstinence until marriage is unrealistic.  Those of us who have actually waited until marriage find this to be a foolish assertion.  You don’t win wars by waving a white flag, and you don’t defeat temptation by calling it irresistible.

And you don’t overcome sin by dwelling on it.  Don’t watch that dirty movie.  Don’t listen to that dirty talk.  Don’t fill your mind with trash.

For every temptation that comes our way, there have been numerous heroes throughout all of history, ordinary people like you and me, some of them even weaker than us, who faced that same temptation and won.  There is no temptation on the face of this earth that has not been conquered many times by people who were not especially gifted in doing so.  Virtue is available to all people.  God has made no command that cannot be obeyed.  Everyone has a choice to make, whether to serve God, or to serve simple, stupid pleasures.  These days, we’re turning vices into virtues.  We’re normalizing sin.  Instead of calling people to righteousness, we’re helping people make excuses for themselves.

If this doesn’t change soon, we’re toast.  We’re steering into disaster.  We’re so focused on sin that we’ve lost sight of righteousness.