There is that old saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over thinking the results will be different. I know that feeling, that vain hope that if I am just a bit more convincing, if I find exactly the right words to say, if I just try a little bit harder, I will get what I’m hoping for.
It’s like hitting “Replay Deal” on the solitaire app, because I tell myself that if I play this card instead of that one, I might win the game this time.
Am I the only person that does that?
Eventually I hit the wall. I get to the point where I am tired of trying; where I have to acknowledge that everything I’ve been trying to do hasn’t worked, and I start looking for a way out—for an escape route—and my prayers start to sound like, “God, get me out of here!” Get me that new job; get me out of this relationship; fix this situation because I am going insane. I’m done, I can’t do this anymore, I’ve tried as hard as I can, I’ve done everything I know how to do, and it’s not working.
Don’t tell me you’ve never been there.
And then God spoke.
Something he said to Peter at the very beginning of his ministry (and again at the very end).
“Throw your nets out on the other side of the boat.”
And Peter immediately responds, “We’ve been fishing all night and haven’t caught anything.” Doing the same thing over and over again. What makes you think the results will be any different this time?
I have been telling God for years what I think needs to happen in my life. Truth is, the more I rehearsed my stories about what wasn’t working (and calling that “prayer”), the more miserable I became.
I’ve become very aware of how dangerous that is. When I insist that things have to be a certain way, that this—and only this—will make me happy, I’m basically telling God that I know better than He does. That’s a scary thought. And so, like Peter, my response was, “Lord, I’ve been fishing all night and have nothing to show for it. I can’t do this anymore.” But the truth is, I was doing what I was doing because I thought I could bring about the results I wanted.
That’s the insanity: I should know by now that doing things under my own strength does not work. Some years ago, I was the uber-volunteer for our annual week-long summer camp. I had signed up to be part of the team that put on the program for the kids, doing four skits a day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. And then when they said they were looking for more team leaders for girl’s teams, I volunteered to do that too. Doing what I was doing for my own motives—showing off, really, just wanting to be the most awesome superstar volunteer ever. And, of course, I was not. I was a mess. I was tired, cranky, overwhelmed, frustrated—even the other team leaders noticed how badly my week was going.
The following summer, I signed up for the skit team again. When the call came for more girl team leaders, I ran and hid. I was NOT going to do that again! I was going to do my skits, enjoy hanging out with the rest of the cast, and have a bit of “vacation” at Vacation Bible School. And then the director called me the day before camp started and told me that one of the girl team leaders had sprained an ankle, and would I consider being a team leader again? Took me three hours to finally agree… and I went home and cried, knowing that I’d just set myself up for another disaster.
Got home Monday night and cried again, exhausted and dreading the next four days. And then the miracle started to unfold. Tuesday was better. Wednesday, I was feeling pretty darn good. Thursday and Friday were great! I had more energy on the Saturday after camp than I’d had on the Saturday before (when I didn’t even know I would be doing double duty again all week).
I learned at summer camp that I could do exactly the same thing and get amazingly different results. It’s not about the doing; it’s about the heart behind the doing. So, when I heard “throw the nets on the right side of the boat,” I had to ask myself, “What’s my heart? Am I doing what I am doing because I want to get something for myself, because I want to manipulate or control my circumstances, because I want everyone to think highly of me (or feel sorry for me), or am I doing what I am doing because I’m hearing from God, trusting him, and doing what he says to do?”
Yes, Peter started by complaining, “We’ve been fishing all night and caught nothing,” and then he got it right and added, “But I will do as you say and let down the nets.” And they caught so many fish, the nets were breaking and the boats were starting to sink.
And as I choose to listen, and do what my God is telling me to do, my heart is being changed—and so are the circumstances.