A few weeks ago, the city installed a new stop sign in our neighborhood. I have driven through this intersection for almost three years. And this stop sign was needed, for sure.
But even after I knew the sign was there, I keep driving right through that intersection! I meant to pay attention to it, but I always seemed to notice it after passing through it. I worried that I would never really “see” it.
So often, in the places we are most comfortable, we operate in autopilot. If you have ever driven home from work or from the grocery store, and can’t remember the process of getting there, you know what I mean.
Our brains become accustomed to our routines and pay less and less attention to the things we do every day. In some ways, this ability increases efficiency, so that we don’t waste brain power on tasks we already know how to do. We can focus on other thoughts like that “discussion” we had earlier in the day, the menu for the week, or the details of an upcoming vacation. Autopilot mode is essential for multi-tasking.
But sometimes autopilot gets in the way. When we develop patterns that become ingrained negative behaviors, autopilot is part of that process too. Our minds constantly hum with words and images, memories and plans. Our thoughts are conscious and unconscious.
Autopilot can take us from joy to anger in one second flat. Like when our kids disobey us for the 100th time in 23 minutes, we snap. Autopilot takes a peaceful day and turns it upside down because a friend says an unkind word or uses a sharp tone; our response is immediate. When we operate in autopilot, our feelings are running the show, our “gut” leads the way.
Autopilot makes change hard. We want to live differently, but before we have a chance to move in a new direction, we are already on the old path. This can be very discouraging.
The stop sign in my neighborhood reminds me that, though sometimes the progress is slow, change does come. One day, I suddenly stopped at the intersection. I don’t know how it happened. I made the same mistake countless times. But I really wanted to obey that sign, and eventually I was able to do it.
Heart change can be slow too. We are made to love God and love others, yet often we struggle. Thankfully, our hope lies not in ourselves, but in Jesus, who enables us to be transformed by the Spirit. So after countless mistakes, one day we will find ourselves ignoring that unkind remark, avoiding gossip, praying for our enemies, and easily forgiving those who have hurt us. We know this will happen, because we trust in Him.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come
(2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV).
And I will give you a new heart,
and a new spirit I will put within you.
(Ezekiel 36:26, ESV).