People tend to think of stop signs as annoyances and interruptions. There you are, barreling along, it’s only a few yards to the other side of the intersection,  and – pow! You have to come to a dead halt even if you’ve already stopped at every other street corner for miles. We think of these signs as getting in the way of our progress.

But progress is not always the best thing. A stop sign reminds you to look and make sure it’s safe. It’s a pause to reassess. Are you on the right street? Is this the place you turn? Is there a train coming? Are you sure this is where you want to go?

We need stop signs, and we get into more trouble when there aren’t any. Life, for instance, has no stop signs. And we could use some. Without stop signs, it can be hard to tell when to quit a dwindling affair, or a disintegrating friendship, or a dead end job. I personally would have been better off if there’d been a red marker at the beginning of some of those affairs and jobs. If only I had paused, taken a deep breath, and looked all four ways.

Sometimes the universe will put up stop signs for you. I recently had an experience of this. Since Christmas I had been running around crazily trying to ‘get things done’ at a frenzied pace, and this went on well into January. Then I was introduced to some germs and the next thing I knew I had pneumonia, and could barely move from the couch. This was ‘stopping’ with a vengeance. I could not get anything ‘done.’ Day after day I had to cancel all the ‘stuff’ I had promised to do and all the appointments I had made; this went on for a full month. And all of a sudden it was very clear to me that none of that ‘stuff’ was important. The only thing that is important in a life is the person living it, and the lessons they are learning. Everything else – I mean EVERYTHING – is dispensable. I will carry this knowledge with me as my life starts picking up to normal speed again.

But usually we have to call the stops ourselves. How does a person know when to call it a day? Nobody likes a quitter, but how do you tell the difference between a bad patch that will improve, and the end of the line? Once you do quit, you’ll never really know if endurance would have paid off. Is it really darkest just before the dawn? Or are you beating a dead horse? A stop sign would sure help.

But how could we trust anyone to put them up for us? If God has not deigned to insert stops into our lives, then certainly no lesser being can do the job. The final, irreducible choices in life are left to us.

Some people turn those decisions over to others: the army, their family, their religion, their government. But those people are still the beings who made that crucial first choice. And having turned it over to someone else, they have lost the right to complain about anything that comes after (but they probably will anyway).

Because what we are after, when we pass the buck, is the ability to blame someone else. How far some of us go, regressing to dependence, just so we never have to say, “It was my decision – I did this to myself.”