June 27, 2007

Driving Lessons

2007 1518 page23 capou’re watching the white line again, aren’t you?” the driving instructor asked as I drifted hopelessly across the lanes.
I was 25 and just learning how to drive. My parents had grown up in a major city and commuted by subway. When we’d moved to a smaller city, we depended on the bus line. In college, I certainly couldn’t have handled the expense of a car while paying my way through school.
Which took me to my first post-college job in a much smaller city in which bus service ended at 6:00 p.m. My job as a hospital chaplain required that I sometimes work at night, so after hours I took a taxi or wore out long-suffering friends. Finally, it was time to get a car, and I knew it. I contacted the local high school, who put me on their waiting list in case they had space in their summer driver’s ed program. They never did. It was time to bite the bullet. I found there was no driving school in my city, so I contacted one in a nearby city. The instructor needed to pick me up at work before he could even begin the task of teaching me how to drive.
2007 1518 page23On that first lesson, we buckled up, and he instructed me to “ease it out into traffic.” Traffic? I reminded him that I didn’t know anything about driving. Yes, yes, he understood that. I told him I didn’t know which pedal was for gas and which was the brake. Oh. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I think his whole expression changed!
Sure enough, that first day, we . . . um . . . went out into traffic, but I don’t remember any ease. I was terrified as I tried to keep the pedals straight, split my gaze between the rearview mirror, speedometer, lights and signs, and traffic. Except for observing dryly that I could pick up some speed, nothing was said about that day’s progress. The next week, however, it was the owner of the school who came to pick me up. He said they tried never to change drivers midstream, and he didn’t know how that had happened. But I did. This was a nice man, a kind man, a patient man. And goodness knows he needed to be.
That very day we ran out of gas. On the freeway. In the rain. And we discovered that we shared a faith in Jesus. From that day on, we checked the gas gauge before we hit the road, and he came equipped with a spiritual topic for the day. We enjoyed our conversations, and our lessons changed from ordeals into encouraging idea swaps.
There came a day he asked me about the white center line. I explained that following it was the only way I knew to drive straight and stay in my lane. Then came the pithy bit of spiritual counsel I’ve cherished ever since. “Look,” he said, “it’s like your walk with the Lord. Stop focusing on the lines and focus on the road ahead of you. If your eyes are focused on your destination, your hands and feet will follow. Just like you look to Jesus, and He directs your path.”
He was so right. Straining to keep the law won’t keep us on the straight and narrow, try as we will. But when we focus instead on Jesus, our “hands and feet,” and everything else that we try so hard to control, will follow. We stay on the straight and narrow not because we work so hard at it, but because our hands and feet will always follow our gaze.
Look to Jesus!
Valerie N. Phillips is the associate director of the women’s residence hall at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she has ministered to collegiate women for more than 25 years.