Early on in the shelter-in-place days, I discovered some beautiful running trails just minutes from my house. Each morning in this refuge, I would watch the sunrise, wonder, think, and pray for the potential of a new day. Waist-high grass stood on either side of the single-track trails. Alternating between running and biking, this routine worked itself into the rhythm of my soul. One morning, as I jogged around the corner, I startled an American robin in the middle of the trail. Fleeing, it tripped down the path just out of sight. I turned the next corner and as if surprised the robin frantically half-hopped, half-flew down the path. A third time, oblivious to my continued path, the frightened bird flew ahead but remained below the grass tips down the path. Finally, the fourth time, as I agitated the robin, it flew out of the path, above the grass and, realizing its ability to soar, ascended confidently away.
The Lord gave this to me as a picture of many entrenched in a rut of thinking, living, and leading. While this bird was designed to soar, it hobbled down the rut, just to be cemented in with the same, perpetual problem. As I interact with Christian leaders, I hear words like “stagnant,” “stuck,” and “rut.” As they dream for a moment, inevitably they share dim hopes of something “new,” “fresh,” or “thriving.” Like the robin, the rut is real, and forces intensely pull us back to the known. These forces are spiritual, emotional, and physiological. I have explored the former two elsewhere, but here, I offer just a couple of observations about the physiological elements that reinforce the status quo.
I am indebted to Stephen D’Souza and Diana Renner for synthesizing the work of several neuroscientists in their work, Not Knowing. The mind searches for certainty. While this can generally motivate the search for knowledge, it possesses the possibility to paralyze leaders whose primary responsibility is to shepherd others into the unknown of the future. One neurologist even asserts that “threats to our certainty can be neurologically as painful as a physical attack” (32). These uncertainties leave the brain debilitated. A further study showed the brain’s left hemisphere’s role as one of “the Interpreter…always looking for order and reason, even when they don’t exist.”
As neurons get connected, they form patterns. These patterns turn into one of two things: healthy reinforcement, or a negative rut leading to addiction. Neurologically speaking, we are wired for the expected, for the known, and for order. Much of life and leadership, however, are surprises, unknown and chaotic. While many will falter down the path, a few are called to look into the chaos and fly, and in so doing, show there is a new path… it springs up, do you perceive it? He is making a way in the wilderness, streams in the wasteland, and flight paths out of the grass.
Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner, Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity (New York: LID Publishing, 2016).