My husband and I decided recently that we needed new toothbrushes.
Simple enough: our dentist gives us a new one every visit. We went to the storage closet, pulled them out, opened them, popped them in the toothbrush holder…and then did a double take.
They were exactly identical.
Same color, same style, same number of bristles, same brand, same letter on the handle. Complete copies of each other in every single way. I frowned. “Is this going to work? They’re going to be easy to confuse.”
My husband very carefully settled one of the brushes on the right side of the holder. “Mine’s on the right,” he said. “Yours on the left. That’s how we’ll remember. No big deal.”
“Okay,” I said, doubtful.
Imagine my amusement the next morning when I walked into the bathroom after sending my husband off to work…to find both toothbrushes sitting on the same side. In his morning haze, my husband had completely forgotten about our careful arrangement. I found myself staring at two identical brushes, and was reduced to feeling out which one had damp bristles so that I could determine which one was mine.
I took a picture of the twin brushes and sent it to him. Haha, I texted, you already violated the Great Toothbrush Pact of 2017.
I should have known it was inevitable, he replied. We totally set ourselves up for failure.
And so we did. Two identical toothbrushes, our early-morning hazes and mumbled conversations, a toothbrush holder with a not-really-useful divider: we were doomed to confusing them before we even used them once. Fortunately for us, it was funny. But day-to-day, the ways we set ourselves up to fail can be a lot less amusing – and with devastating consequences.
I once heard a student of mine who had trouble turning assignments in on time talk about finishing one of her assignments on a tablet at a get-together with friends. Of course she’s not going to finish her boring paper with the promise of food and drink and good talk literally all around her, distracting her. I sometimes miss my morning walks if I don’t set out my clothes and keys the night before; something about having to wander around the house looking for things saps my will to go anywhere, and after I find them I just sort of shrug and give up. My husband has to mow the grass first thing in the morning because he knows that the later he waits, the more likely it is he’ll find a reason not to do it.
Along with our inherently sinful nature, humans are easily-distracted, whimsical, inconsistent creatures. We have the best of intentions and abandon them. We make grand plans and only follow them through halfway. We make brilliant decisions, resolutions, and feel intense convictions – but when it comes to actually doing something, we get bogged down in struggles and problems and distractions of our own making and never achieve our goals.
Today is my encouragement to you, in your Christian walk, to do your best to get out of your own way. To stop setting yourself up for spiritual failure. If you want to read your Bible more, place your Bible so that it’s in your face all the time, or so that it’s close nearby where you normally are – don’t nobly set it up on a special “study table” in a room that you never go into and will forget about over the course of a normal day. If you want to reach out to others more, don’t let yourself do anything online until you’ve sent the necessary texts or emails, or made the necessary calls. If you need to have a special prayer time, don’t eat breakfast until you get it done – or be willing to say no to the things that prevent you from getting it done.
In Matthew 18:9, Jesus says that if your eye causes you to sin, you should gouge it out. For Him, half-measures aren’t good enough. Get to the root of the problem: get rid of what is holding you back. The same principle applies to the things in our life that cause distraction or get in our way. When I wanted to reduce the caffeine I was consuming, I knew that would eventually mean that I couldn’t keep soda in the house. I like it too much; if it’s there, I’ll drink it. I can’t help it. So I stopped. And now I can’t overdose on caffeine unless I’m willing to throw on a jacket, find my keys, get in the car, and drive out to purchase it. By making it more difficult to do the thing I shouldn’t be doing, I’ve succeeded in reducing my caffeine consumption significantly.
I often hear people wistfully talk about goals they want to accomplish as though their goals aren’t in reach. Man, they say, I really wish I could… And it’s true: sometimes certain goals aren’t in reach. But many of them are, or could be, if we’re willing to remove what’s standing between us and them. So if there’s something in front of you that you’re hungry for spiritually – if you want a better prayer life, if you want more of God, if you want to be more committed to ministry, or to fellowship, or to service or outreach or whatever, if you want to stop x or y or z – take some time to sit down and ask yourself, “What’s standing between me and this holy desire?”
We’re all capable of much more than we know. And a large part of realizing our holy potential is, sometimes, as simple as not setting ourselves up for failure. Be willing to yank out obstacles by the root, and you’ll increase your chances of getting where you want to go.