Hamster Wheels, Merry-Go-Rounds, & Escape Velocity
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:42
Have you ever ridden a merry-go-round? Perhaps it’s been awhile, but I’m sure you can still remember its effects. The movement…slow at first and then steadily increasing…(if you had some strong pushers), the swirling of the surrounding scenery, and the dismount. It’s the dismount I want you to think about for a moment. Remember how difficult it was to walk at first, until your mind and feet became unified again and you could actually walk a straight line? Then, if your stomach was strong enough and recess was long enough, you’d do it again! There’s something about that disorientation that some people enjoy and others, like myself, find a bit unsettling…and stomach wrenching.
I don’t know if hamster wheels have the same effect on their users as merry-go-rounds do on their clientele, but I do know that, at my age, watching them spin can have the same effect on me as riding a merry-go-round did many years ago! Apparently the sensitivity to circular movement increases with age and, quite possibly, could be directly tied to memory loss. I offer this hypothesis based upon experience, for the more my susceptibility to dizziness has increased, the more forgetful I have become. Perhaps it’s just me; I’m not sure…I can’t remember. But, whether or not the hamster gets dizzy, one thing is for certain, in reality he is just as “stationary” as the children are on a merry-go-round. For both of them, there’s a lot of expended energy and misguided movement, but nothing is ever really accomplished apart from putting a circular disc in motion.
Our lives can be replicas of the dizziness that comes from being on a merry-go-round or watching a hamster wheel. In fact, we even have phrases that point to our feelings toward those things that, as adults, make us dizzy; we complain of the “rat race”, express our impatience as we “race against the clock”, suffer through the “daily grind”, and feel caught up in the “vicious cycle” of each day. Too often, trying to maneuver in and out of each new day has us struggling to walk as much as it did when we first stepped, or were flung, off of a merry-go-round; we are weak, wobbly, and unable to find our focal point. I think Satan is behind all of this spinning. I think he twists the laws of science just as he twists all of God’s created truths. After all, since all he can do is use (or rather misuse) the tools God created, he will do his best to take what God meant for good and use it for evil. Enter his manipulation of escape velocity.
Escape velocity, though I know you don’t need a definition, is the speed required for an object to break out of its gravitational pull. The amount of gravity an object has is determined by its mass; the greater the mass, the greater the pull. For example, if I wanted to escape the moon’s gravitational pull, I’d have to accelerate to a speed of 5,320 mph; to leave the earth would require a speed of 25,000 mph; and to leave the sun, I would have to reach a speed of 1,381,600 mph! And, while that speed is mind boggling, it would take an ever greater level of acceleration to launch me off of a planet made entirely of chocolate. I can’t even compute the velocity that deployment would require! So, now that you understand, I’m sorry…you already understood, now that you’ve reread what escape velocity means, let me explain how I think Satan uses this law against us.
Being that he is only able to use what’s already been created, Satan looks for ways to allow us to get caught up in our own snares. Why waste the time and effort of making a trap when the prey is already prone to make his/her own? And so, we find that speed is needed to escape a gravitational pull. For believers, who are after all Satan’s targeted victims, our object of greatest pull, of greatest mass, is (or should be) our relationship with God. He holds us in place; He is our anchor; He is the One in whom we rest. God’s word reminds us of how our relationship with Him is to be. We have verses such as,
- “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3
- “The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14
- “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” Psalm 37:7
In these verses, and so many more, God calls us to wait upon Him, to trust in Him, to have peace in Him. Nowhere in Scripture are we encouraged to race about, to increase our speed, so that we can take care of things ourselves. Yet we are prone to do just that. We have developed a hamster wheel mentality that beckons us to chase after things we can never catch, forgetting that once we step off of the wheel, our legs are less steady than when we first got on. But, for a time, we feel the wind in our hair (or whiskers?), we believe we are moving forward, and we actually feel productive, while all the time the only accomplishment we are making is in weakening, or breaking, the gravitational pull God has on us. He hasn’t changed; His mass is never decreased, but our speed causes us to break away just enough to push away from His pull. And all Satan had to do was give us something to chase after.
So what are our wheels? What things cause us to run in vain and lose our focus? Work is a front-runner; how often dangerous levels of acceleration are reached which cause some to pull further and further away from their time with God. Family is another wheel, or rather it’s the wheels within the family that cause things to spin out of control. Where there are children, there are activities; where there are activities, there are demands on time, where there are demands on time, there are wheels. Fast moving wheels which, because there is at least one per person (if not more), usually end up moving in opposite directions. Soon, parents are going in separate directions because the children’s activities are in different locations and family time is wheeled away by the momentum of family activities. Next, family devotions cease; then, personal Bible reading comes to a halt; finally, church attendance decreases and perhaps even stops (…but just for the summer…just until things slow down…). The third law of motion states that, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”, and, in keeping with this law, as the wheels of activities pick up speed, the acceleration causes unsecured things to be cast out. Or, in some cases, cargo is thrown overboard so that the wheel can go even faster. Dizzying, isn’t it? Another wheel we are prone to step into is the church wheel. Again, as in the case of families…and even work…church is a good thing, so why should it be considered to be a gravity-breaker? It’s because Satan can only use what’s already available in order to steer us off course. So, the fact that we attend church doesn’t bother him; he just increases the tempo until, before we know it, we find we have entered the wheel of church busyness and are now moving at full-throttle! When this happens, our focus shifts, our hands and feet are tied up (someone’s gotta keep this wheel moving), and our energies are used not to reach the lost, care for the hurting, or encourage our brethren, but simply to run. But, our hair is blowing in the breeze and we feel exhausted from all our running, so we must be doing a great work! We run. God waits. Satan pushes the merry-go-round. Our escape velocity increases; our gravitational hold decreases.
It’s odd how accurately this describes our lives. Have you ever been so caught up in your wheel that you didn’t have time to do those things you knew God was prompting you to do? (If only there was time…). Have you ever found yourself flung off of a wheel and, while trying to steady your legs, hoped there would be someone who would come to your aid? (If only someone would step out of his/her wheel…). God didn’t mean for us to expend all of our energies by running in place. We are called to run, but it’s a race that has purpose and produces endurance; our wheels are pointless and merely produce entropy. While we try to go in as many directions as possible, God beckons us to move in one direction…toward Him:
- “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11: 28-30
- “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33
- “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37
Wheels are good for moving inanimate objects and, in the case of hamster wheels, for moving inferior mammals, but they are absolutely detrimental when they are constructed within the lives of the believer. Feeling dizzy for a little while after riding a merry-go-round is harmless; becoming so disoriented from our activity wheels that we are unable to keep our eyes fixed and focused upon our LORD is dangerous. As increased speed moves us away from gravity’s pull, so too do our empty motions move us away from God’s pull. Escape velocity. Scientists operate by its truth; believers would be wise to do the same.