Lessons in Spiritual Warfare from a Broken Garage Door

I spent time recently repairing my garage door. On Saturday, one of the pulley cables snapped. Simple, I thought. I purchased a new cable and made the repair. The door worked for about a day and then jammed. A hinge had broken. I repaired the hinge, but still no go. The door would not close all the way. I finally determined that a pulley had lost a bearing and would not turn.

Of course, this was not some grand coincidence or case of really bad luck. The cable, hinge, and pulley were all related. One of them, probably the pulley, had begun to fail first. This put additional stress on the other parts. The cable turned out to be the first to fail completely. The other parts quickly followed suit. In engineering, we call this a cascading failure. It is a feature of any interconnected system.

Our spiritual lives can be like that. When we neglect part of our spiritual life – for instance when we sin – we can quickly find the rest of our life falling apart in short order, and soon we wonder why we feel so empty inside. One sin predisposes us to another and then another, until sinful behavior has become a habit and we start justifying ourselves, saying that such-and-such a sin really isn’t so bad. Sin becomes a part of every aspect of our life.

Now that my garage door is working again, I notice that it is remarkably quiet. I hadn’t even realized it was getting noisy. The pulley must have been getting a little noisier every day, the noise increasing so slightly that, like the frog in the boiling water, I was oblivious to the relentless creeping change.

Again, sin is like that. It can start with such seeming innocence that we barely realize we are sinning. It might start out as too much TV watching. Then watching shows that are morally questionable, that titillate and excite. Then turning to programs not just questionable but objectionable. This is how men get sucked into pornography, bit by bit. When we open the door to sin, it can grow throughout our lives without our even realizing it. And then it comes, cascading failure.

The sin has permeated us. We drift away from our loved ones. We drift away from the faith. Our lives become chaotic. We obsess about appearance, status, money, possessions. Eventually, we don’t even know who God is.

How do we prevent this? When designing a complex system, we first design to avoid cascading failures. We choose parts less likely to fail. We design in backups. We minimize dependencies between parts. And we do preventive maintenance, to catch small failures before they have a chance to cascade. This is why the mechanic, when he changes the oil in your car, always checks the air filter.

In our spiritual life we do the same thing. We design our life to avoid the failures. We call this avoiding the near occasion of sin. In our family, we don’t subscribe to cable TV. In business I have a personal rule not to have lunch or even coffee alone with a woman, no matter how innocent.

We also do preventive maintenance. We pray the morning offering and the rosary. We do a daily examination of conscience. We read the scriptures and frequent the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation.

In short, we can prevent the kind of breakdown suffered by my garage door, but it takes diligence and planning.

4 responses to “Lessons in Spiritual Warfare from a Broken Garage Door

  1. I like part of this but am not a big believer in sin. Cascading failures in the spiritual is a grand concept though. I really like that. They are analogous.

    Another interesting and similar concept is virtue and anti-virtues clusters. Another way of saying that like attracts like. I guess that’s why we don’t see to any preachers in the smokey blues bar getting smashed or why we don’t see too many of the criminal element attending many spiritual retreats. A not altogether good analogy but think I made my point.

    • I am curious about your comment about not being a big believer in sin. What would be the difference between a sin and the “anti-virtues” you mention?

      The clustering you talk about is very important to make happen proactively. We have to surround ourselves with virtuous people if we want to remain virtuous. Unvirtuous – sinful – friends will lead us into sin. A friend of mine used to have a good way to put it: “Friends are like elevators. They can either lift you up or bring you down.” Choose your friends wisely!

      Thanks for commenting on my post!

  2. I don’t really like the word sin because it’s kind of a loaded word. It probably comes from our separate ideas of the religious world. I believe in a holistic world in which everyone will eventually return to God. Because of that I believe in choices and better choices. The word sin has too frequently been used as a guilt mechanism and a scare tactic. I don’t really believe in a permanent Hell.

    I also don’t like the words of Spiritual Warfare. It makes our reality out to be battlefield and becomes a tool to divide. It’s the old way of US versus THEM, GOOD or BAD, HEAVEN or HELL.

    It’s like your garage door, the world is all connected. In short I understand cascading failures but don’t really envision a permanent failure. I can’t really see a static, permanent heaven or an eternal, everlasting hell.

    • Yours is a common perspective these days. I have three main issues with that theory. First, it doesn’t seem to me to lend itself to a rational response to the problem of suffering. What is the purpose of suffering, and why would a God who is compassionate enough to bring everybody to Heaven allow suffering in the first place? And why not just start everybody off in Heaven? Why have this whole painful “mortal life” thing anyway?
      Second, it seems to subvert free will. What if a person doesn’t want to end up with God? Is a person not allowed to reject God? From a Christian perspective, our ability to reject God is what makes our choice to love God a thing of virtue. The love is genuine, not programmed in.
      Third, if we are all going to end up in Heaven, why shouldn’t we do whatever it takes to get ahead in this life? Even though many people live an anything goes lifestyle now, I still believe that altruism, love, and other virtues are a part of our very nature.
      Anyway, thanks for replying and for sharing your views.
      God Bless

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