Saturday, September 18

Starting in First Gear, and Going Slowly

I have a newfound distaste for stop signs. And stoplights without left turn signals. And... well, you get the picture.

The opportunity to drive a stick shift thrust itself upon me a few days ago. I was helping a friend and he asked me to drive his stick shift to go meet him and do some errands. He was concerned since I drive an automatic, and it's been a while since I drove a stick shift. But I learned how to drive one during my high school years, so I assured him that there would be no problems.

I couldn't even get out of the parking lot. He had suggested starting the engine in 2nd gear - since 1st gear was too weak, and I was trying to follow his advice. Every single time, though, the truck would give a massive lurch, make awful grinding noises, and then shut off completely. I finally tried starting it in 1st gear, and 15 more tries, was slowly moving out of the parking lot.

A few minutes later, I had stopped at a stop light before the expressway on-ramp. The light turned green, I put it in 1st gear, and the engine promptly turned off. I tried again. Massive lurch, everything shaking, awful noises, and it turns off again. The 3rd through 7th tries were similar failures, and then the light turned red. By the time the light turned green again, I had realized my error - somehow I had put the engine in 3rd gear instead of 1st. Switching to 1st gear made a big difference, and then I could slowly switch to 2nd, 3rd...

Driving for the rest of the day was a mixture of sheer terror and blissful calm. The calm came from simply being able to drive the speed limit, in 5th gear, in the middle lane. The terror came with traffic, having to stop (and start again), and stalling in the middle of large, busy intersections. Somehow the engine would always try to start in 3rd or 5th gear. Or it would change from 1st to 4th. I'm sure it was my fault in every case. Either way, the result was always violent shaking, awful grinding noises, and turning off. Thankfully, there were no major incidents, and I returned the stick shift to reclaim my beautiful, amazing automatic transmission.

I think that my experience driving a stick shift was similar to my experience learning to manage my attraction to guys. Sometimes, after giving into weaknesses in life, I decided to go all out - 5th gear of spirituality. But even with visions of grandeur and trying to be the most amazing Saint ever, I still struggled and fell - just as often as before. Inevitably, each time I bit off more than I could chew, and the amazing plans I had devised fell to ruin. And each time I failed left me feeling more and more dejected - wondering if I would ever be able to move forward at all.

Looking at my predicament, I realize that I was missing a key part in my progression - starting in 1st gear and moving slowly. I expected instant change in everything I did... and I wasn't willing to fight for small changes that would enable me to move faster down the road. So I turned to the Lord and asked Him for help. Remarkably, the Lord gave me very simple instructions. Study the scriptures daily. Pray with faith. Prepare for and attend Church each week. I felt sort of like Naaman when he was told to wash in the Jordan River. How would reading the scriptures more faithfully help me with an attraction to guys?

But I had already tried shifting into 3rd and 5th gears - making grandiose plans and changes in my life - only to see them fail. So I decided to really, truly, and honestly try it. I dedicated myself to reading the Book of Mormon every single day, without failure and without excuse, to praying sincerely each morning and night, and to taking time each week to prepare for the Sabbath. And it worked. Did it fix all my problems? No. But, over time, I felt the strength of those commitments slowly enable me to move forward into 2nd gear. Then I made commitments to attend the temple each week, keep a faithful journal, and fulfill my home teaching and other assignments. 3rd gear. I began helping others in their own struggles, enabling them to live happier lives, and spending time developing more meaningful relationships.

Now, if I falter, I know that I need to go back and start at 1st gear - develop the basic habits - and then go on from there. With each step, God blesses me and helps me overcome my own struggles. And I keep moving forward.


  1. I love standard transmissions. I even had my Camry special ordered with the stick. I love driving with the stick!

    Thank you for the analogy. It's very helpful to me.

  2. Beck: I guess I'm glad that there are people who enjoy driving standard. Otherwise, what would we do with all the cars and trucks that drive with the stick?

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. What a fabulous analogy!!! It's very similar to what I posted as a comment to another one of your posts on spiritual resources. I love this image and I can totally relate to the experience because the same thing happened to me. It was absolutely a horrible experience driving that car, feeling so frustrated and feeling that no matter what I tried or how hard I tried it, all the car would do was die. I couldn't move out of that lane, right in the middle of the road, stuck there on a hill and I had to somewhat try to maintain my composure since my younger brother and sister were in the back seat and I didn't want to freak them out. What a RELIEF it was when I finally realized I had been trying to start the car in 3rd gear... I felt quite sheepish as well. lol! Thank you for relating this to the basic spiritual things we do!!! I LOVE analogies and will totally always remember this!


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