Shifting Gears

Terrified.

That’s pretty much the only word that comes close to describing what I felt the first time I drove a manual shift car on the road.

Things were all well and good while we safely circled the parking lot, away from aggravated drivers, absent-minded pedestrians, and critical on-lookers. The path was clear, the way was smooth and flat; no hills, no bumps, no clutch-destroying traffic lights or stop signs. Just turn, after uninteresting turn. I felt quite accomplished driving so smoothly and confidently around that parking lot. The thing is, that cyclical trip in the car lacked just one more, kind-of-a-big-deal thing…a Destination!

In order for me to say that I truly learned to drive the car, and to be able to use it to get to where I needed to go, I had to actually demonstrate my newfound skills in the real world – on the road. And I was terrified.

The thing about manual or stick-shift cars is that, where an automatic car makes the appropriate adjustments for the gear or mode you need to be in, based on the pressure of your foot on the gas pedal, in order to achieve the desired level of acceleration, the manual shift car requires you to make those adjustments yourself.

Knowing at what speed I needed to be moving, was not the difficulty. One knows that if you are approaching a hill, you need to increase your acceleration to ascend the grade or incline. I knew that I needed to slow down as I rolled towards the bright red stop sign up ahead. The challenge was in accurately determining at what point I needed to take my foot off of the gas pedal, put my foot on the clutch and remembering to slide the gear stick into the appropriate gear for the speed I needed to go. My issue was not knowing how fast to go – my issue was knowing when and how to shift gears!

Today, you may be approaching new terrain in your life, possibly approaching a hill to be climbed, an intersection where you need to stop and wait to cross safely, or at a turning point where you need to make adjustments to get around the bend successfully. You have done your research, maybe completed some training, you’re working on a degree, set goals for the new year, made decisions about what you want out of your life. You know where you are going and how fast or slow you need to go based on your timeline for arrival.

Yet you are simply unsure how to shift gears, how to find the motivation to finish what you’ve started, how to pivot when one business idea hasn’t worked out, how to slow down and pause to assess and reflect on your progress.

As I sat and pondered the memory of this driving experience, I began to identify the steps that brought me from experiencing sheer terror to a place of almost comfort. (I say almost because I still chose to purchase an automatic car – it’s just my preference).

1. I needed to focus. Until driving a manual car became like second nature, it was critical to make sure that I was not being distracted from the task at hand. I wasn’t having conversations with passengers, listening to loud music, talking on the phone (hands-free).

Many times when we are embarking on something new, we try to establish the new habit, venture, program, in the midst of the pre-existing chaos of our lives. We need to shut down the noise – maybe miss a few social gatherings or outings, maybe miss some weeks or a season of our favorite show (it’ll be on Netflix or Amazon prime eventually), maybe limit our daily routine (for a period of time) to activities that contribute to building a solid foundation for the successful accomplishment of our goals.

2. I needed to heed the voice of my instructor. I obviously had faith in the experience of the person teaching me, and I needed to listen to their guidance to learn the timing for shifting gears. Reading books or online articles about how the car worked was not the same as having realtime instruction on what to do based on the real life scenarios I came across on the road.

So often we are consumed with our schedules and our plans for the day that we forget to consult with our Heavenly Instructor on how to approach an upcoming challenge. We love reading devotionals or books about the Bible, often to the neglect of actually reading God’s Word for ourselves, missing out on God’s love letter to us – which contains all of the answers to life’s questions. Or we are concentrating so hard on making sure things go the way we want, that we are unable to hear or feel the gentle prompting or real time instruction of the Holy Spirit saying, “I know you think this is your 10 year plan, but I need you to shift gears and speed up, because I want to do this thing in less time than you imagined,” or “Daughter/Son, I need you to shift gears to slow down, and wait for my timing, because I know that if you get there too quickly, there will be an accident”.

3. I needed to STAY ALERT! While an automatic car afforded me the luxury to relax a bit, knowing that all I needed to do was to step on the gas or brake to accelerate or decelerate, driving a manual vehicle required my attention, not just to my current positioning or location on the road, but also to anticipate the shifts I needed to make for the road up ahead. I needed to remain ready to shift should the need arrise at any given moment.

In this season, we are being called to a place of alertness and awareness. Times are changing and to make the necessary shifts to achieve our goals and complete our missions or assignments in life, we need to remain ready to shift and adjust our perspective, our spending, our habits, our time commitments. In Mark 13:33, Jesus says “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come” (ESV).

Today, I hope that as we consider these reminders to Focus, Listen and Stay Alert, we will then have the boldness to shift confidently as we journey forward toward our destiny!

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