Once upon a time in California, my truck brakes went out as I approached a busy intersection in Merced. Luckily I was able to veer the truck to the right and away from the intersection. The truck jumped the curve, took out a street sign and headed towards a huge boulder a local office used as part of their landscaping. Had that boulder not been there to stop my runaway truck, who knows what would have happened. Before this incident, there were a number of times I noticed the brakes not working well. My wife at the time said, on more than one occasion, “Get them checked.” But I never did. My response was always, “They’ll be fine.” But they weren’t.
In February of this year, my monster truck died. The technical term is a seized engine. To fix the Rumbly, my truck’s nickname, it was going to cost $9,000. I didn’t have $9,000. Like many frustrating experiences in life, like the brake incident, the real tragedy was not how much it was going to cost to fix it but that the incident was completely avoidable. To make a long story short, a hose exploded and I chose to drive the truck home and risk the peril of engine failure. I didn’t make it far. No surprise. Looking back, there’s so much I would do differently. I would’ve called an Uber to drive me home. I would have left the truck where it was and had it towed to a local repair shop the next day. I would not have driven it home or believed the illusion that it would make it. All the signs were there for me to make a wise decision but I did not make a wise decision. I made a stupid, stupid, stupid decision.
Other things were breaking around me too; when I say breaking, I mean the opposite of what is optimum and ideal. As Rumbly sat in my driveway, inoperable because of my negligence, I was getting around with my ex-wife’s van. I was thankful to have it and appreciated the Christian charity. In the driveway, Rumbly collected dust and rain spots. I saw it everyday, poor thing. I felt like it talked to me, feeling it’s neglect and saying, “You going to fix me or what?” I wanted to but I did not have the money. I tried not to complain about that too much, at least I was not renting a vehicle at a cost. I took the van in on a Monday to get an oil change. While there, one of the employees told me the battery was low and asked if I wanted to buy a new one. I did but not from there. I made a mental note to look into buying a new battery. That evening, as my son’s soccer practice finished, I went to start the van and it wouldn’t start. I tried again, nothing. The battery was dead. I got a jump from another dad and the van started. The man said, “Take it to O’Reilly’s, get it checked out.” So I did. When I got there, I parked the van and shut it off. I immediately turned it back on and it started fine. In my head, I was like, “Works just fine. Let’s go home self!” As I reversed and began to drive away, I felt God telling me, “What are you doing? Stay here and fix that battery! I’m trying to help you with something really wrong with you.” I turned around, parked the van and shut it off. Immediately I tried to turn it on but it would not start. It was dead. I bought a new battery and changed it right there in the parking lot.
I may be the only person on Earth who says, “It’s fine” or “It’ll be fine” in any situation as if delaying will make it so. Probably. Maybe. However, things do not always end up fine especially when one is not attentive or diligent in addressing what is broken. Being negligent is dangerous. Inconsistent maintenance can lead to something breaking. Inattention can lead to late fees. Being negligent and inattentive in a relationship can lead to conflict and division.
As things were breaking down around me, I remembered that old Seinfeld episode, “The Opposite” where George Costanza, frustrated at the state of his life, begins to do the opposite of every instinct he has in life and, ironically, sometimes it works for him. Sometimes, a solution for delaying and negligence is as easy as taking quick action. Make the phone call you need to make. Pay that bill early. Get to the gym. Have that conversation. But you have to think too. Quick action without thinking things through can lead to mistakes, like a $9,000 mistake.
During this time, I began to implement a strategy to manage the critical voice in my head I learned from reading the book Chatter: The Voice in Our head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It by Ethan Kross. I stopped using “I” language (“I don’t do that!” “I don’t neglect things!”) and began talking to myself in the 3rd person and using my own name to do that. This pattern of language is called Illeism. I began, “Zeke, is it true that you tend to put things off when they should be addressed?” It is. “Zeke, is it true that you notice and are aware of things that need to get fixed but you don’t fix them right away?” That’s true too. Grrrrr.
We all have made mistakes and possess flaws. I don’t know how I acquired this flaw, this glitch in my programming. Is it the result of some lacuna, some gap from my childhood where something was not given or invested in me? I don’t know. Speaking to myself in this way helped me to look at myself and my actions objectively, like a fly on the wall, and without being defensive. Defensiveness is often an obstacle to solutions. If I’m busy protecting myself, I can miss a truth I should be hearing and fixing. It shouldn’t matter that I’m uncertain of why I have had this tendency. What matters is knowing and doing something about it. If something is broke, it means an opportunity for growth. It means work. Growth is not easy. But if you want it, be focused and committed.