Lent, The Inner Landscape

Stopping the Car, Part 2

In which we explore the 3rd thing on the list

  • Pay attention to how your brake pedal feels. If it’s soft and goes to the floor, you may have low fluid, a faulty master cylinder or problems with your drums or calipers. You may be able to rebuild some braking pressure by pumping the brakes.
    • If, however, your brake pedal is hard and does not move, something in your brake system may have seized or you may have an obstruction under the pedal. Try to feel with your foot (or have a passenger look) to see whether you have something under the brake pedal.

Hmmm. Let’s think about the brake pedal that isn’t stopping the out-of-control whatever you’re driving in your life — your temper, your self-control, your desires, your _____. For me it’s the habit of mind I’m trying to amend by fasting from it during Lent, and I need to tell you that while it’s going better each day, there have been some dramatic failures. Unlearning a habit is HARD. 

So, whatever is the driving force, the thing moving you through the world the way you don’t want to go, the impulse you want to stop, it doesn’t matter, because the situation is, your brakes fail. Then what? 

Pay attention to how it feels when you try to stop and fail. 

Is the pedal soft? In other words, is it still moving, as if maybe there’s a chance you could stop if only you pump it just the right way? 

I so identify with that. If only I could do this (whatever “this” is) more perfectly, if only my technique were better, surely there would be no problem. 

But sometimes the pedal is hard, immovable, because something has seized up on the inside or something is obstructing you on the outside.

Okay, now I think I might tell you what my Lenten Discipline is, because seriously, this hard brake pedal demands it. 

I’ve been attempting to fast from saying mean things to myself. It’s habitual. I think it relieves the strain of other feelings, such as anger or sadness or disappointment in others or frustration with the way things are. Sometimes I’m trying to avoid hearing the criticism I fully expect from another person or people. I turn it on myself, which is painful, and if someone else is involved in the conversation — in other words this isn’t happening when I’m alone — I do a worse thing, which is beat myself up and then apologize for being awful, even though I frequently don’t mean it. 

And sometimes I do this because of the soft pedal, because I have low fluid (I’m tired or worn down), or a faulty master cylinder (Baby, I was born this way, or got there so soon I can’t remember it.) or problems with my drums or calipers (Could these be a metaphor for brain chemistry? I might need to listen to Car Talk to be sure.). 

And sometimes I do this because of the hard pedal. I seize up because of the way I’m interacting with someone who pushes my buttons, Or there may be an obstruction because the other person is just like that. 

It’s a relief to recognize it’s not all interior, though the habits were formed so long ago that I suspect I attract people into my life who set up the same darn dynamics with me.
If I were a car, I could have the brakes replaced and try again. But this ’61 Songbird has to make do with the brakes she has. They can be tuned up, but ultimately I need them to work, for myself and for others.

3 thoughts on “Stopping the Car, Part 2”

  1. Yes, oh yes, oh yes. Blessings on you, your brakes and all of our brakes! Here's one of those rare aspects of life where I find the metaphor of "demons" helpful. When, in seminary, I struggled to break free from long years of unhealthy self-denial as a 24/7 caregiver, I began to imagine my unkind self-speech as an unholy imp that was answering to a demonic uncle. (Cf. "The Screwtape Letters.") Every time that voice in my head said, "you're not worthy of care…" I'd mentally try to flick it off and say, "get thee behind me!" Learning to love ourselves as God loves us is so hard… yet it's a discipline that has gotten easier with time. The more I'm tender with myself, the more amazed I am by the depth of God's tenderness.

  2. Martha, thank you for sharing this. I struggle with your Lenten discipline as well, every day. I love your analogy. And MaineCelt, your vision is helpful too!

Leave a Reply