Devotion: Aligning Life

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:6

I have been driving on the highway a lot recently.  On a trip back from Atlanta, I started to play a game.  I would let go of the wheel and count how long my new car would stay in its lane.  Being one of the nicest cars I’ve driven, I wasn’t surprised when my count surpassed 30 seconds.  The alignment on this vehicle is great.  A few months earlier, however, I drove a friend’s truck which did not have power steering, was a stick shift and the alignment was off.  I fought with that truck throughout the city of Charlotte worried I might sideswipe a mailbox as I rattled about.  My calves, shoulder and wrists hurt after a few hours of fighting the truck.

Being aligned is powerful. Being misaligned is exhausting.

In a great book called Boys in the Boat, the author captures this concept of a group of boys experiencing the power of alignment.  In rowing the term is called “swing”:

Oly M Rowing 8There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define.
Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it. It’s called “swing.” It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others. It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant. Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten all at once. Each minute action— each subtle turning of wrists— must be mirrored exactly by each oarsman, from one end of the boat to the other. Only then will the boat continue to run, unchecked, fluidly and gracefully between pulls of the oars. Only then will it feel as if the boat is a part of each of them, moving as if on its own. Only then does pain entirely give way to exultation. Rowing then becomes a kind of perfect language. Poetry, that’s what a good swing feels like.

Alignment is a powerful thing, not only on the road, or in a boat, but also in our life; Misalignment is a dangerous thing.  When things align, they go faster and smoother.  They use less energy, and waste less resources.  To quote Peter Senge:

The fundamental characteristic of the relatively unaligned team is wasted energy.Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 4.31.39 PM Individuals may work extraordinarily hard, but their efforts do not efficiently translate to team effort. By contrast, when a team becomes more aligned, a commonality of direction emerges, and individuals’ energies harmonize. There is less wasted energy. In fact, a resonance or synergy develops, like the “coherent” light of a laser rather than the incoherent and scattered light of a light bulb. There is commonality of purpose, a shared vision, and understanding of how to complement one another’s efforts.

James also understood the wasted impact of being misaligned in our faith when he challenges people to stop doubting.*  He understood our tendency to ask redundant questions, to hesitate, and be vulnerable to being tossed back and forth like a wave–they fling us from one side of the lane to the other.  They cause our faith to falter and not take traction in order to head us out in mission.  We end up fighting the steering wheel, desperately trying to hold on for dear life.

Alignment is where all of our efforts are pointed in the same direction. Alignment, like swing, creates poetry and exultation in our lives.  It can happen in teams, work, family and marriage, and ultimately in our own life.

  • A team that is in alignment is when a “group of people function as a whole.” (Think Duke in the final 5 minutes against Wisconsin…for those haters they can add the refs as part of that alignment.)
  • A jazz band that is aligned is “being in the groove” when the ensemble plays as one.
  • A business that is aligned means the organization recognizes individual talent in order to execute a shared vision.
  • A family that is aligned has clear set of values that directs each members behaviors.
  • A marriage that is aligned is not worried about how “I” feel, but seeking to sacrifice for the other.
  • Ultimately: A life that is aligned is one where the five core areas of our life come together.

Each of us has five areas to our life–and while modernity wants us to compartmentalize them–an aligned life seeks to bring them together in the same direction in order to maximize our efforts.  These five areas are:

  1. Spiritual
  2. Relational
  3. Emotional
  4. Vocational
  5. Physical

Rank yourself in effort and how aligned these areas of your life are.

As someone once said, “A man will not ask for help until the car is flipped over in the ditch.”  By then it is too late…so where are you veering off course? Who can help you get realigned?


(*Footnote: I differentiate questioning with doubting. Doubting has become the word de jour in the Church recently thanks to Rachel Held Evans, et al.  However, most of the time they have used this word, they simply are recasting Anselm’s notion of “a faith seeking understanding.” Meaning questions that drive you closer to Jesus, like Peter being pulled out of the water. In contrast, Doubting originates from a word that means to hesitate…it does not drive you deeper but leaves you vulnerably bouncing around. For Greek folks note that Matthew 14:13/28:17 are different words than James uses.)

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