The Roomba Rules – Learning from the vacuum

We have a Roomba. It is a robotic vacuum cleaner that cleans our carpet. If you have one, you know how great they are. If you don’t, I’d be happy to explain a little about how they operate.

There is something hypnotic about these little devices. Although we’ve had one for several years, they still fascinate me. The other morning, after scriptures, I was sitting on the sofa trying to muster enough energy to get in the shower and head to work. Instead, I opened an app on my iPhone and turned on the Roomba, via wi-fi remote. Cool, right?

(Yes, you read that right. I sat on my backside and used my phone to turn on the vacuum that was 15 feet away rom me. No I’m not proud.)

It eventually came into the room where I was sitting and went about its business. I watched it as it went back and forth, sucking up the stuff it found on the carpet.

Little did I know that I would learn something…

The Roomba is programmed to move in straight lines. It will continue moving in a straight line until it encounters some kind of obstacle. When that happens, it stops, makes some adjustments and attempts to keep moving forward. It might bump into a table leg, or a piece of furniture, or a wall, but eventually it will get back to work. As it is programmed to move in a straight line, it does all it can to return to that straight line as quickly as possible after encountering a problem that knocks it off course.

Occasionally, the Roomba will get itself into a jam – stuck under a cabinet, wedged behind a piece of furniture or something. When that happens, it sounds an alarm, and one of us needs to get it “unstuck” before it can get back to its work.

Pretty remarkable for a little machine running around our house. But it gets better.

Eventually the vacuum will run out of power and need to recharge. When that happens, it knows to seek out its “Base Station,” or its “Home.”

At the Base Station it will position itself where it can be recharged, after which it will return to its work of cleaning in straight lines.

Being a vacuum, it picks up dust and dirt, scraps of paper and thread, and whatever other gunk that is on the carpet. Because of that, eventually the container that holds that dirt and dust gets full.

This is where the Roomba need some additional help. It does not have the ability to empty itself. It will head home and sound a little alarm to let us know that it someone needs to dump out the dust bin.

Then it gets back to work.

(Note: If you are content with this in parable form, you can stop reading here. If you want some good supporting material, read on.)

As I was watching this process unfold, from an admittedly odd perspective. (See photo above) I had a few thoughts.

(Hopefully, my intelligence is not artificial, like the Roomba, but real intelligence.)

As I watched the machine attempt to stay in a straight line, I was reminded of what Jacob taught:

“Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel.” (2 Nephi 9:41)

Some might not know that there are strait paths, and straight paths, and they mean two different things. Maybe that could be a different post, but in the meantime, it is good enough to know that the path I am supposed to be following is straight, and narrow.

Sometimes we run into obstacles. Things do get in the way of our efforts to walk that straight path. Even a guy as great as Nephi struggled with this same thing:

“O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.” (2 Nephi 4 17-18)

Yes, you read that right. Even Nephi ran into obstacles that caused him to beat himself up a bit and feel like he was not on track. Luckily for us, he also gave us the antidote: He prayed to the Lord for help:

“O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me… (2 Nephi 4:23)

Getting back on course – the straight path – is something we all struggle with – even the best of the best – like Nephi.

Another lesson from the Roomba is that sometimes we need to return to our “home” and recharge our batteries. This is another thing that happens to all of us: Somethings our “spiritual batteries” need to be topped off.

Elder Joesph B. Wirthlin explained how to go about getting recharged:

“Spiritual nourishment is just as important as a balanced diet to keep us strong and healthy. We nourish ourselves spiritually by partaking of the sacrament weekly, reading the scriptures daily, praying daily in personal and family prayer, and performing temple work regularly. Our spiritual strengths are like batteries; they need to be charged and frequently recharged.” (link)

Lastly, and hugely important, is the concept that we are simply incapable of emptying our own trash. Sure, we can repent, we can feel remorse, we can not return to our sins, but no matter how hard we try, we cannot empty out own dust bins.

Someone else has to do that.

And He already has. Through the Atonement, our Savior has accomplished that missing piece. He has made it possible for our sins to not only be forgiven but to be forgotten.

“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42)

Imagine that: A promise of cleanliness. Made even more important when we accept that this is not something we can ever do by ourselves, but instead, we must rely on the Savior.

President Boyd K. Packer summarized it beautifully when he said, “I am so grateful for the blessings of the Lord Jesus Christ, … for the Atonement—the Atonement which can wash clean every stain no matter how difficult or how long or how many times repeated. The Atonement can put you free again to move forward, cleanly and worthily, to pursue that path that you have chosen in life.” (link)

Oh, it is wonderful that we have a way to return to the straight path – no matter what the obstacles we encounter, no matter how depleted we may feel, or however burdened we are from the baggage that we carry.

That hope is always there, whether we feel it or not.

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  1. Love love love this parable. Thank you for your observation of something simple but bringing a powerful lesson.

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