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If you’re traveling in Tunisia, be advised about the roads. You’ll be driving down a promising thoroughfare with a destination in mind, when suddenly the road dead-ends. Often one of the locals along the street will oblige you with a heads-up, calling out to your car in French: “Impasse!”
Only a slow learner would make the same mistake again and again. Just because it looks to you like logic dictates the existence of a connecting vehicular link at this juncture does not mean that things in this world proceed according to your logic. Frustration must bow to realism, and wisdom means accepting that in Tunisia lots of roads that should go somewhere in fact go nowhere.
Here is my thanksgiving column this year: gratitude to God for allowing me to stay alive long enough to stop assuming that the same road going nowhere will turn out OK this time around.
A sermon I heard mentioned a man who went for a job interview boasting of his seven years’ experience. The human resources person across the desk lifted his eyes from the application and said to the applicant, “Looks to me like you’ve had one year’s experience, seven times.”
We are on this planet “threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength … fourscore.” Our life is “soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). In that brief window we are meant to make “progress” (Philippians 1:25). When we don’t, a divine trip to the woodshed is in store: “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12).
Why not venture down a new highway marked ‘minister’ rather than the well-worn furrow marked ‘manipulate’?
This inspired rebuke would indicate that the longer you are in Christ, the more you ought to have learned about which paths get you to the destination of that Christlikeness you want, and which are a cul-de-sac. Once you know, and have walked it a few miles, then by virtue of that “constant practice” (Hebrews 5:14), you are qualified to “be teachers” of beginner sojourners. And the thing you will teach them is “the basic principles of the oracles of God”—principles like kindness, patience, being slow to speak, and not letting the sun go down on your anger.
I am in my second marriage. God has seen fit to let me confront the same obstacles in my autumn marriage as in my springtime one. I strongly suspect that if I were six more times bereft by death of a husband, and six more times remarried, the same walls would crop up if they have not been mastered. How unlikely a coincidence is it that the walls are every husband’s fault, not mine? The flesh must be put to death or it will continue to rule: “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).
In the 1993 film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray is caught in some kind of time warp where, however much he hopes that time is advancing and that he is getting somewhere, the next morning his alarm clock wakes him up to Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” and the same disc jockey banter. What a nightmare to repeat the same day over and over again.
Did your relationship strategies work in the first marriage? What are the odds they will work any better in the second one? Why not venture down a new highway marked “minister” rather than the well-worn furrow marked “manipulate”? It breaks free of the time loop. Now you begin to really change, instead of being just a wrinkled, gray-haired version of the person you were at age 10, 30, and 50.
Like a Tunisian native, I know where the “impasses” are and try to take pains to avoid them, for only fools repeat their folly (Proverbs 26:11). Only the insane go down the same doomed highway all their lives and hope this time it will lead to Elysium. The one who finally sets foot on the narrow road and “walk[s] as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:6) discovers this surprise from the first step: It’s really true that Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden light.