pilot reading

It occurred to me that in 21st century culture auto-pilots can be a major block to the work of the Holy Spirit in ourselves and those around us. There is so much that is expected of individuals every day in work, parenting, even church-going. We are expected to have a house that looks like something from HGTV, dinner that looks like something from the Food Network, children that behave and cope perfectly. We are expected to be the best at work, 4.0 at school, and volunteering for at least three things at church. On top of it all we need to have the latest smart phone so we can document all these accomplishments and make it all look damn good on social media.

No one can pull this off, but we try. One way to help things along in our day is to set up little auto-pilots. Behaviors or a set of actions that are triggered by the time of day, a playlist on Spotify, the nasty tone of voice your 4 year old uses in an unraveling situation. Suddenly your auto-pilot takes over and the daily torrent of minutiae is done, the liturgy of discipline is recited in a firm tone to the 4 year old, and you barely thought about any of it. In fact you were thinking about your schedule for the day ahead, and making mental notes of who you needed to call. You were hauling the 2 year old to time out, while reciting the liturgy to the 4 year old. Auto-pilot is the secret to multi-tasking.

Auto-pilot is also a way we change things about ourselves that we don’t like. If you are pushy, you put an auto-pilot on it that triggers anytime you feel you’re getting too pushy. Personally, I grew up with a message that a driving personality is a bad thing. I was horrified to find out that I have a strong drive. So somewhere along the way I put in an auto-pilot that kicks in every time my creative engine starts to rev and gear up. I can feel that tunnel vision closing in, the focus zeroing in, this one idea is all that matters and will be all that matters until it comes to fruition. The drive is about to take off and run over everything and everyone else. The auto-pilot cuts the engine. Suddenly the drive is gone, all that’s left is a small cloud of fumes dissipating into meaningless chores. No one got run over, no expectations from my family were neglected.

But what if God needed you to give someone a push in the right direction at the right moment? What if God gave me a strong drive in order to write what I know I need to write, even though I am a wife and a mother of four small children? What if the very thing you put an auto-pilot on to keep in check is the very thing God put in you to use when working with the Holy Spirit?

How about the auto-pilots that help get things done? When I’m on auto-pilot, half the day could be gone by the time I stop and start to think manually again. When I’m on auto-pilot I am almost completely numb to the nudging of the Holy Spirit. I could be missing a lot from Him and not even know it. I might realize it later, or the next day, when it’s too late. Auto-pilot can dull our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, whether He is trying to do something in us, or use us to do something in someone near us.

Now that I am aware of this dynamic I am cleaning out my auto-pilots. I am trying to take back mental control because I don’t want to be numb or squelch the very qualities within myself that God gave me in order to carry out His purpose. But it’s hard to turn off an auto-pilot once it is in place. Suddenly the things I set up to make life easier turn on me. I feel like the captain in the movie Wall-e. His whole life was automatic. He even had a robotic auto-pilot that flew the spaceship. But once he woke up and had a purpose, he tried to go against the auto-pilot. The blue light on the robotic wheel turned red, and before long they were literally wrestling for control of the ship. In the end the captain had to turn off his entertainment and become stronger. He had to solidify his resolve and tap into his own resources to turn off the auto-pilot. I suppose he was onto something there.

I came to terms with a failure to live up to the expectations of our 21st century culture long ago. My house never looks like HGTV, the recipe for dinner may have come from the Food Network, but it didn’t turn out the same way. I never got a 4.0 once at any level in school. I regularly drop the ball as a parent, wife, and friend. I quit Facebook. So I no longer exist on social media, which sometimes feels like I no longer exist at all. But I acquired my own high expectations for myself just the same and the pressure from them brought auto-pilots into my life. Sometimes they help, sometimes they get in the way. One day, I won’t have so many and I will have the strength to rely on the Holy Spirit instead.

– Etta Woods