I’ve always appreciated the definition of insanity that goes something like this: Insanity is doing the same thing again and again but expecting different results.
It might not be the most scientific definition, but it definitely rings true. Insanity may take many forms, but every form, I imagine, falls somewhere under the category of feeling stuck. Another thing I like about this definition of insanity is that it suggests agency and hope. It reminds me that I’m not simply stuck in a bad place against my will—I can choose to do a new thing and see what happens.
There’s nothing quite so invigorating as a new thing. And nothing quite so terrifying. It’s the terrifying part, after all, that makes us feel invigorated—the two feelings grow together, in proportion. It’s also the terrifying part that so often leads to our choice (conscious or not) to “stay stuck.” When we are in that stuck place, trying to determine if we’re ready for a jail break, there’s a constant weighing of fear against frustration, of hope against madness, of known against unknown. From the outside, the choices look so easy, but nothing is ever easy from inside those walls, watching the scale in balance, waiting for it to tip.
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On the last Sunday of the old year, our pastor chose Isaiah 43 for his teaching. A few years ago I heard that chapter for what felt like the very first time, although I know it wasn’t, and it’s been close to me ever since.
I have redeemed you. I am with you. Do not be afraid. The themes at the start of the chapter speak powerfully to me about forgiveness, empowerment, and hope. And then there is this:
16 This is what the Lord says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
The God who doesn’t change is able to change me. In fact, change is one of his unchanging promises—providing a way out of my stuck place to a new thing.
Of course, just because God is doing a new thing doesn’t mean it’s simply done. There’s still a partnership, still an element of trial and error, and a fear in not knowing exactly where you’re going. But at least you’re going. At least you’re not stuck doing the same painful thing again and again. At least God is providing streams in the wasteland, to refresh along the way.
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On December 13, I decided I was ready for a new thing. This decision came after four months of managing the stress, frustration, and pain of what was a very destructive semester of school for my daughter. Most of the time I felt helpless, reactive, and, frankly, insane as I sent her back out the door to school, day after day. Because that’s just what you do, right? You send your kid to school and hope it gets better. Yes, you talk to administrators and teachers, you make counseling appointments, you hold family meetings, but you don’t really do anything new because you’re stuck, and there’s fear in the unknown.
But then, on December 13, the scales tipped and I was done. I was ready to do a new thing. More importantly, I was ready to allow God to do a new thing in us—I was ready to take that leap of faith. We all were, even if we had no idea exactly what that would be. We still don’t know exactly, although we have some ideas and tentative plans.
What’s important is that we are starting fresh. Because that seems to be part of the equation in Isaiah 43—not just the “new thing” of verse 19, existing on its own, but the “forgetting the things of the past,” in verse 18. God wants to forget and wants us to forget, so that we can all do a new thing together. Right now, in the life of my daughter, that seems even more important, more powerful, than whatever this new thing ends up being.
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(Photo above by nociveglia)