by Darrick Young
“The definition of insanity is repeating the same things over and over again and expecting a different result.”
Ever heard that cliché? It has been mis-attributed to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Mark Twain (Actually, none of them is the source. It appears in print for the first time in a 1981 Narcotic Anonymous text.) Despite the origins of the quote, we all get the sentiment – you can’t keep making the same mistakes and then be shocked when nothing changes. Having said that, here’s myform of “insanity.” I keep thinking things will happen as fast as I believe they should and that they will turn out exactly the way I expected them to. And then I get shocked when it doesn’t happen. Every. Time.
This crystallized for me this week when I was reading a book called Last Stand: The Battle to Save the Buffalo and the Birth of the New West, by Michael Punke (He’s the same guy who wrote The Revenantwhich they made into a movie where Leonardo di Caprio gets ripped apart by a bear. Remember that feel-good story?) The book centers around George Bird Grinnell, who is called the, “father of modern conservationism.” Grinnell battled relentlessly to prevent the extinction of the American Buffalo and the establishment of national parks such as Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.
For most of his life, the battle was uphill and filled with way more losses than wins. America was young, people were looking to get rich, and it looked like our natural resources were inexhaustible. But Grinnell and his allies knew that without a change, those resources would be gone. So, he fought and fought and fought. But the public didn’t seem to care, and the government didn’t have the will to fight off the lobbyists who wanted to exploit the land. Then the arrest of a poaching hunter, and the news story that went along with it, changed public opinion at the drop of a hat. The change that Grinnell could not achieve for over two decades took place in less than fifty-six days. While the victory had to be gratifying for George and his friends, it had to be incredibly frustrating to invest over twenty years of your life into something with seemingly little to show for it.
Can you relate? I can. That’s my insanity every time I take on a new project or take a step of faith. I love fast food, fast WiFi, and fast everything else. And I expect the thing that I am doing to happen the same way: fast. My timetable tends to be somewhere between “instant” and “a week or two”. I am sure that’s all it will take, and I am baffled when it doesn’t. And honestly, there have been way more times than I would like to admit when I have bailed on something because it took too long.
Something else that I read this week, in the Bible, added to my little inner-discussion. In 2 Kings 5, there is a story about a military leader named Naaman. He led the armies of Aram and was highly thought of by his king. He had money, influence, and power. But he also had a problem. He had leprosy, a disease that makes your skin and limbs rot and fall off. Nothing he had in his life could fix or cure him. He had it all, but he was going to lose it piece by piece. Literally.
One day a Jewish servant girl, who had been kidnapped during a raid on Israel and was now working in Naaman’s house, mentioned to Naaman’s wife that there was a prophet in Israel that could cure him of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:3). Naaman was thrilled and he and a group of his men took off for Israel with gifts of clothing, gold, and silver for the prophet, Elisha.
When Naaman and his men got to Elisha’s house things didn’t go as he had planned. Elisha didn’t even come to the door. Instead he sent one of his servants (pretty insulting to Naaman) who told him, “Elisha says go and dunk yourself seven times in the Jordan River and you will be healed.” When Naaman heard that he was ticked! This was not going the way he had hoped. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said:
“I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” (2 Kings 5:11-12, NLT)
Naaman’s expectations weren’t being met. He wanted to wring Elisha’s neck. And he certainly didn’t want to go and dunk himself in the muddy Jordan river. But some of his men talked him into it, and here’s what happened:
“So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!” (2 Kings 5:14, NLT)
What jumped off the page at me when I read this was that Naaman had to dunk himself SEVEN times in the river. It got me thinking, “What if he hadn’t done it seven times? What if he did it three times, saw that it wasn’t working and had given up? Or after his fifth dip he realized how foolish he felt and climbed out of the river?” If had done that, he would have missed out on the healing that God had for him.
If George Bird Grinnell had quit fighting for Yellowstone and the American Buffalo at any point in those twenty plus years, neither one would exist today. If Naaman had stopped at three or four dips in the Jordan, leprosy would have eventually consumed him. Naaman expected something different (a prophet waving his hand over him), and Grinnell had to keep grinding even when the odds were against him. But in the end, it was worth it. The things that matter most in life are. And the things that matter most often take a lot longer to happen and don’t end up looking like the picture we had at the start.
A few years ago, I read a little parable about a stonecutter. The stonecutter picked up his hammer, took a big swing, and struck his chisel right where he wanted to split the rock, but nothing happened. So, he did it again and again and again. Finally, on the thousandth blow, the rock split right where he intended to carve it. But the wise stonecutter knew it wasn’t that swing that split the rock. It was the cumulative effort of one-thousand blows that accomplished his goal.
That story has been a great reminder to me ever since that every day I need to, “hit the rock,” and trust God with the results. Many of the things that I am working toward seem to take a lot longer than I thought they would, and require a lot more swings. And, quite honestly, a lot of times they end up looking a lot different than I imagined. But when I am faithful to the things God asks me to do, the end is always better than my expectations, and always at the right time.