The Book of James talks about a man looking at his face in the mirror and then, after walking away, completely forgetting what he looks like. The metaphor is about the gap between knowing and doing. Faith and works, in this specific case.
There is a tension between knowing and doing. We all feel it. We know we should drink less coffee or take more walks. We know we shouldn’t worry so much. We read books, gobbling up insights that makes us sigh and ah and feel better about our existence. But then we go out and do the same things; make the same choices.
There is a gap between what we say and what we do. Our proclamations and practices aren’t in sync. And this is a cause for confusion in our lives. It makes us inconsistent people. We know this, yet struggle to close the doing gap.
Why The Gap
Like most things in our lives that cause inconsistency, the problem is intent. Vision. We love the idea of knowing. Gathering information is a positive experience for us. It makes us feel better about who we are.
Most of us measure success by how good we feel about ourselves. And we feel best about ourselves by gathering possessions. Knowledge is a kind of possession. We like to read books on racial reconciliation or political bipartisanship. We like knowing the Enneagram or Myers Briggs. The knowledge is a kind of possession, a commodity we can show off to our friends.
We love to gather insight. It makes us feel better. And it even makes us feel as if we are indeed “doing” something. We read a book that tells us about leading or loving our spouse better and we nod enthusiastically. But we don’t change or make half-hearted attempts before giving up. We feel as though knowing is the same as doing. And so, our behavior stays the same.
Change is Hard
There is good reason for this. Knowing is easier. Hoarding information is much safer than trying it out. Knowing I should repent when I lie to my spouse is one thing. I’ve got the book on my shelf that talks about how I should do it. And I loved the book, highlighted most of it. It makes me feel aligned with the truth. Makes me feel better about our relationship.
Yet, when the time for repentance comes, there is a lump in my throat. It is, as we say, getting real. And that is what scares us into inaction. The deep vulnerability of action. The exposure of ourselves to others. The move from theory to practice is one of the hardest things for us to master.
Too often, we avoid it by “learning” more. We read the next book, or podcast, or sermon. We break out our highlighters and say “amen” in all the right places. But we leave and barely remember what we heard.
All of this goes back to intent. We believe the delusion that if we feel better about the problem, it is solved. We want to make sense, to understand some of our suffering and confusion. We feel better when something speaks to it. We post it on Facebook and call it a day. Problem solved. But then we go out and act the same. We make the same choices or choices based on the same flaw. We don’t do the hard work of change.
There is a strong link between what we think, feel, and do. And cutting off any one of those limbs leaves us inadequately transformed. Change is a full-self exercise.
Stop nodding about the truth and start living it. We need to close the doing gap if we want to see the fruit of goodness in our lives. Simply collecting information is lazy and ineffective. We are people of action. Creatures born to move and live and breathe. Otherwise, what we learn is as fleeting as a glance in the mirror.