Learning to drive in a winter climate is a unique challenge. You need to know how to handle slippery conditions, make sure your washer fluid is topped up when the white stuff starts melting, and on those occasions where we get a large dump of snow, you have to learn to navigate the ruts that form in the streets. Residential areas are particularly unique, because they don’t get road maintenance as often as the major routes do. This means that when you drive a small car like mine in a neighborhood filled with trucks, the ruts can often dictate where you’re headed (whether you like it or not).
We had one of those significant snowfalls recently – likely one of the last of the year – and it got me thinking about something St. Paul wrote:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. -Romans 7:15
As I try to navigate my little Honda through these snowy ruts through our long Alberta winter , I’ve started to wonder if this is precisely what St. Paul meant about the moral life. After all, on many of these days I’m not driving the places I want to, but the ruts are pulling me to the places I don’t want to go.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls this draw to do things/go to places that we know aren’t right for us concupiscence. Much like those ruts which can draw you away from your intended destination, concupiscence is our inclination to do evil often in spite of the fact that we know it’s not what’s best for us (CCC 408). We do battle with our concupiscence as we recognize this pull (just like those ruts in the snow) and try to do something else. The problem is that the more we’ve driven down those roads – the more we’ve turned the inclination to do evil into a wrong choice – the more defined that path is, and the harder it is to do anything else.
When we study the human brain, we often talk about the ways in which the brain becomes ‘wired’ to do certain things. An example of this can be the route you take to work and the fact that you might be able to drive there without even thinking about it. Another example is the way in which we might deal with stress by indulging on food, shopping, or drinking. With any of these habits, there can come a point where we look at ourselves and wonder how we got here. It’s at those moments that, like St. Paul, we begin to comment “I do not understand my own actions.”
What’s interesting is that the snowy ruts in my neighborhood disappear in one of two ways. The first is that a couple of times a year, a snow plow will come through my neighborhood and break up all the snow that’s been packed into our street, and then it gets hauled away. But we know that there’ll probably be another snowfall, and the ruts will return.
The other way that the snow goes away is in the spring – as the earth draws nearer to the sun and temperatures start to rise. This makes the snow melt. Ironically, this can make driving even trickier, as the freeze/thaw cycle can do a real number on the roads. But bit by bit, you start to see pavement again, and my little Honda will eventually be able to go wherever I want it to.
Here we find the key parallel between driving through snow and those moments we look at ourselves realizing that we don’t understand our own actions. The fact is that God can intervene in the lives of people in much the same way as a snowplow. We’ve read these stories in scripture (Moses with the burning bush or St. Paul being struck blind) and sometimes you can encounter people whom He has led from addictions or from other sinful habits in dramatic fashion. Where this tends to be most effective is when the dramatic conversion experience was followed by a moving nearer to God – staying closer to the warmth of the Son.
The fact is that we don’t need a dramatic conversion experience to make us draw nearer to the Son. We can’t count on a snowplow to come through and break up every one of the ruts we might find ourselves stuck in. What we can and should do in each situation is to draw nearer to the Son who will help melt them away so we can be free. It is the love of God that melts the ruts away, slowly but surely, so that we can be free to do, be, act, pray, speak, serve more perfectly.
As we enter into the spring and approach the great celebration of Easter, we’ll also be watching the snow melt away in this part of the world. That drawing nearer to the sun ought to be a reminder to each of us to draw nearer to the Son who will melt the ruts found in our hearts -those actions of ours that we least understand.