Spinning hamster wheels. A car spinning its tires as it becomes stuck in mud or snow. The treadmill. An endless array of gears turning on a machine without a clear function. Do you have a visual yet? These images all bring to mind the idea of putting forth a lot of effort, only to be getting nowhere and making no apparent progress. Have you ever felt this way? I think we all have, at one time or another, and there’s a few ways we can handle it.
Food For Thought I’m pretty sure everyone has experienced a time in life when they felt they were working really hard, but could see no physical return on their efforts. Personally, I can think of a few diet and exercise plans that left me feeling like I was spinning my wheels. All that work, and no progress! It’s such a discouraging feeling. Sometimes I feel this way when I clean my house for the thousandth time only to walk back through and see mess and clutter left behind by my husband and daughter. Spinning my wheels, again, thank you very much! I most often get the “spinning wheels” feeling when it comes to career and work. When I was teaching, I often had that feeling, whether I was working with a student who was struggling to learn a concept, a family that could not help improve their child’s attendance no matter what special accommodations were put in place, or the constant stream of directives, mandates, and data collection that put me in a constant state of “feeling behind.” Even now, working from home under my own timeline and schedule, I sometimes wonder if I’m just spinning my wheels. I work every day on my blog and my book, but it’s hard to notice any progress. Okay, I actually have seen literal growth on my data reports in the past couple months, so I can tell myself I’m heading in the right direction. But more importantly, I keep having this conversation with God, am I doing any good for His people with the efforts I’m putting forward? Am I actually putting in as much work and effort as He wants me to? Do I have my priorities in the right place? Am I missing a key piece of information to propel forward? Has God been trying to tell or show me something, and I’ve missed it, leaving me spinning my wheels? As I was thinking about these questions, I decided that feeling like a hamster on an exercise wheel might be inevitable. But I have some choices for how I react to this feeling.
A lot of times I jump to this first type of response. The frantic reaction! I must push myself harder. I must go faster and longer. I’ve got to rush. I begin to worry I’m missing out or not going to achieve the goal, so I push myself or those around me, to the point of breathlessness. If I don’t see myself getting anywhere, there must be more to do, and at a quicker pace. If you think of being on a treadmill, do you actually get anywhere quicker just because you’re running faster or longer? No matter how fast I move on my treadmill, I will still be in our bedroom. I didn’t actually get anywhere. You know what I did get, though? I tired and worn out body, and possibly even burn-out. It happened in my job, too. I thought surely I would get ahead and achieve something if I just pushed myself harder and longer. It backfired in a very messy way. I am not saying we shouldn’t challenge ourselves or work hard. But if my panic response leaves me feeling stuck, literally or figuratively, I’m just going to dig myself into a deeper rut and continue to spin my wheels without progress.
I might also choose to jump off the hamster wheel. This may look like giving up to some people. There are times in life when “jumping ship” is the best choice to make. I simply don’t want to do this anymore. But it’s not so much about giving up, as it is about making necessary changes. What I’m currently doing isn’t working for me. This could be physically, emotionally, or spiritually. I’m not getting anywhere, so I need to change my approach. I don’t want to stay stuck in one spot. The choice to jump off the wheel that’s getting me nowhere has been necessary at times. A change in careers. Giving up running races and training plans. A new approach to my writing. An organized household chore approach that includes responsibilities for my husband and daughter. Finding a new church home. Joining a new Bible study group. The ebb and flow of relationships. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good experience in my life or there was no benefit from it. Hey, even the hamster is getting some exercise when he’s spinning on his wheel! It just means I want to make a change so I can continue to move forward and make improvements in my life.
The other option when the wheels are turning is to just keep ’em going. This might be a time in life to practice patience. Maybe I am meant to keep spinning my wheels for a reason. Maybe I’m in the midst of learning a valuable life lesson or perhaps I’m not ready for the next thing yet. Maybe what feels like spinning my wheels is actually just very slow progress. Whatever the situation may be, there is a time and place to just keep going and see how it all plays out.
So how do I know what choice to make when I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels? Well, if I knew how to answer that question for myself and others, I’d probably have the means to retire early for real. To find these answers, it will require a conversation with God, but not just prayer and asking. Like any good conversation, it takes being a good listener as well. I cannot forget in the midst of all my running, spinning, and turning, I must take time to be still so that I can hear God’s wisdom and advice. When I stop trying to be in control of the situation, I often get a true sense of what I should do next, whether it’s jumping off the wheel or persevering with the task. Wheels are just tools we use to get from one place to another. It just happens that sometimes we need to be stationary for a bit to be better prepared for the next place in life.
Today’s Scripture Run your race, no matter what it may look like.
Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Today’s Recipe Since we’re talking about wheels today, this is the perfect opportunity for me to share my Cowboy Pasta dish, which uses wagon wheel pasta. This is a fast meal so it’s great for weeknights. I’m talking about 20 minutes or less, here! This would also be good with the addition of canned tomatoes or salsa, but I have to keep mine tomato-free. We like to serve this with a side of fresh fruit and baby carrots.
Cowboy Pasta (6 servings)
- 8 oz. dry wagon wheel-shaped pasta
- 1 lb lean ground sirloin (I used 90/10)
- 2 TBS cooking oil
- 1 TBS grill seasoning
- 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 1 15.5-oz can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 7-oz can diced green chiles
- 1 8-oz pkg shredded Mexican cheese blend
In medium saucepan, prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and set aside. While pasta is cooking, heat oil in large skillet. Add ground sirloin, grill seasoning, and Worcestershire, browning meat until cooked through. Add onion, beans, chiles, and cooked pasta, stirring to combine. Stir in cheese until just melted.