Driving a Stick, Newton’s Laws & Spirituality

Pushing a car

The first four cars I owned had manual transmissions. Sometime in the early 90’s I made the move to automatics. Because of this, I had a lot of experience with a particular technique that only those who drove stick experienced: Push-starting a car. Also known as compression starting.

I know that there has been a generational shift in experiencing this particular need. I asked my adult kids if any of them had ever had to push-start a car, and only one replied yes. (When on a mission in the Dominican Republic.) So of those you who don’t know what I’m talking about, here is a brief explanation.  (To those who lived it, feel free to chuckle.)

The basics: (Of course this only works on a car with a manual transmission.)

  1. Turn the ignition on.
  2. Push in the clutch and shift into 2nd gear.
  3. Get someone to push the car.
  4. When the car gets up to speed, release-  “pop” – the clutch – and the car should start.

I have had to do it by myself plenty of times, it is a bit stressful, but I never had an experience like this guy:

Now you young-uns might be saying to yourselves, “Why is he droning on about starting old cars when he could be talking about Newton’s Laws of Motion?”  Good point, and I’ll get there soon enough.

Another question might be, “Why would you need to push start a car, anyway?”

The answer? Because it won’t start the normal way. Duh. The better question is “Why won’t it start in the first place?” Who knows? You usually have to push start cars because the battery is dead, and the battery can be dead for lots of reasons: Maybe you left the lights on, maybe It is just old and won’t hold a charge, maybe something is goofy with the alternator, etc. Lots of reasons.

The point is that if you can build up a little speed, you can start a dead car, and often even re-charge a seemingly dead battery. BUT…if you stop the car, remember that it might not start again without having to go through the whole process again. Been there, done that.

NOW it is time for some Newtonian Physics.

Newton’s 1st  Law (Law of Inertia) in everyday terms: An object at rest will stay at rest, forever, as long as nothing pushes or pulls on it. An object in motion will stay in motion, traveling in a straight line, forever, until something pushes or pulls on it. (link)

It makes sense if you think about it. (Or if you remember taking physics.) When things get moving, they tend to stay moving, and when things are standing still, they will keep standing still until something gives them a push. Like my dead car. It was content to stay inert, until we gave it a push – then it could keep going.

Am I making you crazy yet?  Here is the point: Our spirituality has a momentum to it. Or it doesn’t. Sometimes we are moving forward in a straight (and narrow) line. Other times we find ourselves stopped. On rare, sad occasions, we lock into reverse – and there can be great momentum in that direction as well.

What if there is no momentum because something is broken? In the scenario with the car, you might just have to get something fixed. From a spiritual standpoint, sometimes something is broken through sin and it must be repaired before spiritual momentum can be restored. That is where the Atonement comes in. Through Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the repairs can be made. In some instances, we might need to have the bishop help us get there. But it can be done. Referring to Christ and the Atonement, Elder Holland said:

“He will help you repent, repair, fix whatever you have to fix, and keep going.” Elder Jeffrey R. Hollland

Sometimes a battery can lose the power it needs to start the car simply by not being used. Resulting in a car that has lost the ability to run without some help – a push. What happens when we find ourselves spiritually stalled? What do we do? If we want to stay at rest, we do nothing, and we will remain at rest. If we want to get moving, we need to be pushed into motion. The push can be gentle, or the push can dramatic. It can be as subtle as a ‘still small voice,’ or as frightening a personal disaster.

The Holy Ghost is great at gentle pushing. The workings of this world and the consequences of our actions tend to shove a lot harder. Gentle is more appealing.  (For more about the still small voice vs. the voice of thunder, click here.)

Last week I wrote about the importance of attending our church meetings (link). In a sideline discussion, a friend mentioned a reluctance to encourage someone to attend church that doesn’t want to be there, or who doesn’t seem to get anything out of it.  My reply was this:

When we attend church, there is a CHANCE that something will be said or seen that will cause the Spirit to touch us.  When we stay home, the odds of that happening drop to ZERO.

Is it any wonder that our leaders are constantly counseling us to read DAILY, pray DAILY, attend church WEEKLY. Why? Because an object in motion will stay in motion.

Why can’t we ease off on those things and “take a break?” Because an object at rest will stay at rest.

We can’t risk taking a break, or a “sabbatical” away from church, our callings, or our personal spiritual habits if we want to keep moving forward. Just last night, my friend Joyce mentioned how often she has seen that a friend takes ‘a break’ from church for a week or two – and never returns. One week becomes two, two weeks become two months, etc.

Often those self-imposed sabbaticals are a response to unresolved questions regarding doctrine or policy. We hear counsel that can sound a little bit trite: “Stay in the boat.” “Hold to the iron rod.” “Just keep swimming.”  (Ballard, Nephi, Dory) However simple, the counsel is correct. President Kimball explained it this way:

“We learn about these absolute truths by being taught by the Spirit. These truths are “independent” in their spiritual sphere and are to be discovered spiritually, though they may be confirmed by experience and intellect” (link).

To continue the analogy: Spiritual questions are not answered by effectively parking the car. They are answered by spiritual means when we are spiritually in motion. An object at rest will stay at rest. A former Stake President (Who is now a Seventy) once told me, “Revelation comes when we are on the move.:  So true.

There are times when the “Voice of Thunder” spurs us into motion. A personal crisis or tragedy can effectively give us a shove. The death of a loved one, health issues, worry for others, unemployment, natural disasters. Such things can help us move towards God, or effectively put our spiritual cars up on blocks by the side of the road, leaving us to wander off in another direction. I have seen both. So has Lehi. (1 Nephi 8:23)

I don’t know if Newton ever talked about it, but anyone who has ever pushed a car knows that the hardest part is getting it to actually move. It takes a lot more energy to get something moving that has stopped than it does to keep something moving that is already going. So it is with our spirituality. It is much easier – and safer – to keep moving forward on that old straight and narrow, than to stop and have to re-start every so often. The sad tragedy is that if we stop often enough, we might not ever get moving again.

Sometimes we need some help to get back on the road, and regain as sense of momentum. Unlike the poor sap in the video, it is much easier and more effective to get things moving if we have people to help. Family, friends, church leaders are all there to lend a hand. Ultimately, the Savior is willing to lend an omnipotent hand. Ironically, some people decry this assistance as “everyone keeps pushing me.”  Exactly. That’s exactly right. They want you to keep moving out of love, compassion, and understanding. As Newton said, “An object at rest will stay at rest, forever, as long as nothing pushes or pulls on it.” They want you to keep moving, because that is where the answers are.  Those efforts may be unappreciated, or even resented, but they are noble and worthy efforts nonetheless. They know that spiritual enlightenment comes from moving in the realm of the Spirit, not by pulling over and walking away.

There have been times in my life where I was trying to push-start my car by myself, and suddenly the car got lighter and started moving faster – I would look back, there would invariably be some good samaritan would have voluntarily jumped to my aid. I have been both the recipient of being pushed, and also had the honor of doing some pushing. Never once did I think, “I wish that guy would mind his own business.”

Ultimately, the Holy Ghost is better at pushing than anyone else. He can nudge, cajole, pester, illuminate, suggest, motivate and, occasionally, shove. To help keep us moving, we need to be where we are most likely to feel him. We need to be doing things that invite him into our lives and hearts. For us and our children, we need to find as many ways as we can to cause interaction with him as we can. It is too important to stop and take a break or any duration.

Because an object at rest will stay at rest.











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  1. “Revelation comes when we are on the move.” “Some people decry this assistance as ‘everyone keeps pushing me.’ Exactly. That’s exactly right. They want you to keep moving out of love, compassion, and understanding.” These are my favorite quotes from this article. I want to absorb them and be able to use them when needed. It is true that many people leave the Church because they stop moving. And part of that is because they don’t always separate, or understand, the difference between culture and doctrine. I have found that while the doctrine is true, the culture can sometimes cause exhaustion. We need to find ways to support each other, especially new members, in this area. Thanks for another great post!

  2. AuntSue
    Ah driving a stick! When I was learning to drive, our family had the choice of a Pontiac Bonneville (big blue boat) or a midnight blue Ford Mustang. So I learned to drive on the automatic Bonneville, but also had to learn how to drive a stick on the Mustang. Yeah for me. That skill has come in very helpful. Got used to driving with one hand on the wheel, because the other hand had to be free to shift. Hated sifting to start ona a hill (hated those stop signs on a hill!) I actually did have to “pop” a clutch once. Very glad for the “pushers”! With new babies, and surgeries, sometimes you need to miss a few Sundays. It is always very hard to “come back” that first Sunday. I don’t really know why, but it is. (That being at rest stuff) But it is easier to come into that church with a friend or relative. Thanks for the spiritual insights.

  3. Inertia is a good analogy, inertia by itself only applies in a vacuum. In most physical situations, and when it comes to gospel living, friction comes into play. An object in motion will remain in motion, but only in the absence of opposing forces, such as friction. It requires constant effort (daily prayer, scripture study, weekly church attendance, etc.) to overcome the friction of life. If you stop applying that force, you grind to a halt.

    But yes, it’s easier to keep something in motion than it is to get it going from rest. Again, it’s due to friction — static friction (the force of friction on an object not moving, or moving very slowly) is greater than dynamic friction (the force when an object is moving more rapidly). True in physics, and true in life.

  4. If you’re Middleaged Mormon Man, I’m an ancient Mormon Man – and boy howdy, do I EVER remember popping clutches. And my dad was a full time mechanic!

    In fact, we had a saying that the cobbler’s kids went barefoot and the mechanic’s families cars were always broken.

    And now I understand how it is that the more I learn about the scriptures and the doctrines, the easier it is for me to put them on the back burner. I need to keep following yer blog to keep from getting any more of those Alma the Younger experiences. Because, like dead batteries, they will come when you least want them…and there’s always a push involved.

  5. I always enjoy car analogies and this one’s a good ‘un. I had a VW bug and am familiar with popping the clutch as friends pushed hard. Thanks for your thoughts. Must keep moving……..

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