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We take our journey with the best possible driving instructor

      Have you ever taught someone to drive a car with a manual transmission? You know, a car with a clutch. Isn’t that fun?

      “Depress the clutch. Put it in neutral. Start the car. Now, shift up into first. Okay, now give it a little gas, and at the same time ease out on the clutch.”

      Engine dies. Repeat the process. Do it again. Yet again. One more time.

      Lurching back and forth, the driver finally manages to get the car into first gear, and as you calmly tell your student (in hopes of building confidence in them), that’s the most difficult gear to get into (the roll back on a hill is a totally different beast).

      So you’re rolling along in first gear. “Now, speed up so that when that needle on the tachometer reaches the number 3, shift into second gear. All you have to do is pull the gear shift straight back.”


      “You have to depress the clutch when you shift gears,” you patiently remind the driver.

      Okay, the car’s in second. “Good, good. Now, speed up so that when the little needle is at the 3, you can shift into third gear. You’ll push the gear shift up and then over just a bit to reach third.”


      “You’ve got it in fifth gear, not third.” An attempt is made to put it in the proper gear.


      “Depress the clutch!” The driver does so and successfully jams it into third.

      “Okay” you say, wiping the sweat from your forehead with the back of your hand, “I think you got it, now. Speed it up…”

      “…To the 3?” the driver asks.

      “Yep. Speed it up to that, then depressing the clutch, shift into fourth by just bringing the gear shift straight back.”

      Does so smoothly.

      A smile stretches across the driver’s face, because the car is now humming along at a good speed.

      “Now,” you say, “when the tachometer reads three, push it up into fifth gear.”

      “The final gear?” the driver asks.

      “Yes. Up and over to the far right.”

      Bingo. The driver slides it into the proper gear with ease.

      Reverse, starting from a dead stop on a hill, and downshifting all come next. In time, the driver becomes adept at operating the machine, and he or she doesn’t even have to look at the tachometer to know when to shift gears, for the sound of the engine is signal enough. The driver even wonders why learning all this was so arduous. And operating a manual transmission is like riding a bike: once learned, you always know how to do it.

      Christianity is a lot like learning to drive a car with a clutch. We forget to depress the clutch. We grind gears. We select the wrong gear. We panic when we roll back. But we also have a swell instructor. One who is patient. One who never yells at us. One whose voice is kind. One who is encouraging.


      You and I are on a journey, and we must learn how to make that journey. This learning process, unlike learning to operate a manual transmission, takes a lifetime. But we are not alone on this journey. Never. “The Lord, your God, carried you, as one carries his own child, all along your journey.” (Deuteronomy 1:31)

      But it sometimes feels otherwise. In times of stress, doubt or fear, we are like that driver learning to operate the manual transmission. Part of delving deeper into our Christianity is learning that God is right there with us, helping us shift gears. That’s a tough thing to learn.

      Just like driving with a clutch, our Christian faith requires us to constantly change gears to adapt to the situation: a stop light, a car in front of you turning left, the ball rolling out into the street with a 5-year-old running after it. Kick it into neutral, downshift, start from first gear again. It’s an ongoing, never ending process.

      But remember, there is always the highway where you can crank it up to fifth gear and sail along like the wind. The engine hums and the stretch of road you are on is free of potholes and tire debris.

      In Christianity we call that heaven.


      Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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