We can't be in the driver's seat all the time

Posted: Sunday, May 02, 2010

I was approaching a curve in the road in Juneau many years ago, when one of those unforgettable moments occurred.

The driver's door of the oncoming car flew open, and the driver fell out onto the pavement. The driver quickly got up and began chasing the car, which lazily went off the road to the right. It traveled through the ditch and into a parking lot, where it narrowly missed several cars before coming harmlessly to a stop.

I can imagine the driver's embarrassment at not being in the driver's seat. It definitely makes a case for wearing one's seat belt!

There's a story about life in this incident.

We often live life thinking we are in the driver's seat, as though things will always go our way if we try harder. We can conclude that we are in control of our own destiny. Sometimes, things may indeed appear that way. We seem safely belted into the driver's seat with the metal surrounding us giving a false sense of protection. But then something happens to remind us of our fragility, the fragility of someone we love, or even the fragility of the community and world in which we live. The sheet metal crumples under the strain of reality, and we are exposed to vulnerability.

If we live as though we are always in control of life, we will someday face a situation beyond our control. Life's door will fly open, and we will suddenly be chasing ourselves down an unknown path.

If we believe everyone should be in the driver's seat, we quickly become disillusioned and critical of those who can no longer control their destiny. Our attitude can cause us to discredit their importance to our community and to our God, as God's creation.

There are a lot of people whose lives are out of control for a lot of different reasons. At this moment in their lives, they simply cannot be in the driver's seat. At some point, that reality could include any of us.

I particularly thank God that at such times, we don't have to be in control - that God's love is unconditional even when life is filled with chaos. In fact, our need for control can do great harm to us, our relationship with God, and with one another.

As one involved in hunger, homelessness, mental health, substance abuse and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders issues in our community, I know how quickly we can have a change occur in our lives that leaves skid marks all over us. Before we know it, we are running after our own car, our lives out of control.

What is our attitude toward such changes and the people who experience them? Do we deal with people whose lives are out of control with understanding, neglect or hostility? Have our vulnerable moments helped us become more compassionate toward others who face difficult realities? How can we make our community safe for all people?

I believe that faith plays a key role in giving us a framework for living life as it unfolds. Faith drives us in the direction of accepting others and ourselves, regardless of what our life journey brings.

So if you are out driving, keep your door closed and seat belt on. But even with such precautions, the unexpected can happen. Always remember and remind others that God's love is equally present whether we are tumbling out of the car or appear to be securely in the driver's seat.

May we all work on our harmful attitudes that judge others. May we reach out and give support to all in our community whatever their circumstances may be.

When "fall out" occurs, may we fall back on attitudes that reflect God's love. May those sitting in positions of power practice leadership that places value on each and every person in our midst. May our churches be places that practice compassion and love as we together journey down the roadway of life.

• Pastor Larry Rorem, is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church of America pastor.

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