In the past few years of increased driving, I’ve started to notice a tendency that I’m having significant trouble correcting. It’s the unhealthy alignment of my right leg – dominant for drivers in the USA. Naturally, as my thoughts tend to do (especially when driving), I found a devotional thought in this observation.
We’ll start with the actual physical issue – that of having my knee swing to the right and rest on the center console… After a period of driving like this, not recalling putting myself in that position, I start to notice it. Lately, I’ve begun deliberately resetting my heel so that everything is rightly aligned (well, from the waist down, anyway). After a while, I’ll notice again that I’ve slipped into the other posture, which though it seems relaxed, actually results in a painful stiffness when I exit the car and begin to walk. It takes a while to un-kink the knee and stop walking like someone twice my age.
Are you with me? Do you have “comfortable” habits that you fall almost naturally into, then discover the harm they’re doing to your system? What’s your “default” mode, and is it healthy??
I’ve consciously studied my driving habit, and I think I know what’s going on… I’ll start out properly aligned, and all goes well until I have to use the brake pedal. This means moving my foot, resting my heel for as long as the stop lasts, then twisting my foot to reach the gas pedal rather than investing the effort to move my foot again, especially in a stop-start-stop-start scenario like town traffic. Balanced between gas and brake pedals, I rest almost comfortably in this halting anxious place of unhealthy alignment…and stay there until my knee cries out or I become aware of my posture.
Every instance of realigning my leg in the past year has reminded me that our thoughts do the same thing. We can start out well, then any occasion to hit the brakes results in drifting back into unhealthy alignment. This is an unconscious habit, one that we aren’t aware of until it’s too late – until setting the parking brake and walking away becomes as awkward and halting as a knee out of kilter. Correcting it requires a deliberate new habit and the grace to realize that it will take a while to become the new normal. It means being diligent to start out from the right position and not-so-lazy about returning to it after each pause, and again whenever it’s discovered that you’re resting in the wrong place and twisting yourself out of joint.
What does this unhealthy alignment of thought look like? For some, it’s a pesky discomfort that a few steps in the right direction will resolve. For others, it’s another instance when a pleasant visit has degenerated, again, into the litany of wrongs suffered. It’s the moments that turn into quarter-hours, hours, and days of wandering the familiar dark woods of misery, often dragging friends and family along, inadvertently ruining otherwise sunny days. You emerge, covered in brambles and thistles and the blood of old wounds freshly scratched open…and wonder how it was that you arrived here yet again. Those who love you can do no more than hold your hand, because every known bandage and antiseptic has already been tried to no avail.
Sometimes, the thoughts that start out as pesky recoverable situations are repeated through the years until they morph into the second, darker, scenario. So, if you’re thinking now’s a good time to stop reading because you’re not that bad off, it may be worth your while to think again.
It’s fairly easy to say that when I notice my driving posture is wrong, I change position to correct it. Admittedly, I’ve caught myself resetting my foot multiple times in a short trip, and wonder if I’ll ever be free of this unhealthy habit. It’s another thing entirely to suggest that I reset the posture of my thoughts, because I’ve logged a lot more thought hours than driving hours, as we all have. Unless we’re paying attention, or have asked faithful friends to pay attention & give us a signal, the unhealthy alignment problem goes unnoticed and therefore uncorrected.
The Apostle Paul has some suggestions, found in his letters to the Romans (12) and Philippians (4). He encourages us to renew, or detox, our minds by presenting ourselves entirely to God, being actively diligent about maintaining humility and fulfilling our roles in various places of service. He calls us to deliberately align our thoughts to those things which are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praise-giving.
For those of us with unhealthy alignment issues, it’s all too easy to drift into topics of ugliness, often dragging our friends and loved ones along. Sometimes, all it takes is overhearing a snippet of a news broadcast, or some comment from the person in the next booth at the restaurant. Challenge yourself to notice those moments and deliberately reset. Find something lovely or praiseworthy and lead the conversation away from, or out of, the dark woods of misery. If you can’t find a good bridge to move the conversation, then just pick something random & start a new one.
Here’s my “go to” topic changer: “How ’bout them Steelers?” (and I don’t actually get excited about spectator sports). What’s yours?