The differences between a rut and a ditch may at first seem superficial. I aim to show that they are not. A rut is an accident, an awkward inconvenience, a nag. A ditch is direct, deliberate, intended for useful work. The physical attributes point to the metaphysical differences.
When we say "stuck in a rut," we are employing a circular cliché that deplores it's own banal existence. But we know what it means, and that is the main thing. It means we are frozen in a futile exercise, making the same sad excuses and singing the same sad songs. It also means we are behind, and that is where the real trouble comes in: what really bothers us about the whole thing is not where we are but where we could be.
We often blame our ruts on our surroundings, and the accusation has some truth to it. But the mud notwithstanding, we must take responsibility for steering the car into it. The mistake, in itself, is honest enough. What is inexcusable is to sit and sulk instead of doing the common-sense thing and getting the shovel.
A ditch is another proposition altogether. The story of 2 Kings 3 demonstrates well the requirements and rewards of the chore, and has been cropping up frequently for the last while; for instance, in this fine passage from C. S. Lewis's Reflections On The Psalms:
"We are merely, as Donne says, tuning our instruments. The tuning up of the orchestra can be itself delightful, but only to those who can in some measure, however little, anticipate the symphony. The Jewish sacrifices, and even our own most sacred rites, as they actually occur in human experience, are, like the tuning, promise, not performance. Hence, like the tuning, they may have in them much duty and little delight; or none. But the duty exists for the delight. When we carry out our 'religious duties' we are like people digging channels in a waterless land, in order than when at last the water comes, it may find them ready. I mean, for the most part."
It's hard to dig ditches when we are loath to part with the dirt in our lives. But the dirt must give way to the discipline of the dredge as we carve out the depths of our depravity, clearing out the sediment, until the waters of God run through us wide and clear and cold. He bottles our tears and pours them out in joy.
You "make" a rut, through negligent habit, and "dig" a ditch, through diligent industry. Ruts just happen; ditches don't. That's the easiest way I know to tell the difference.
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