Driving Blind

~~E.L. Doctrow said, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I love this, even though it is not at all the way I write. It’s not the way I live either, and I think I rob myself of some joy in the journey because of it. I’m far more comfortable in trips and in life with a well-marked map, a sure destination, planned stops along the way, and a checklist of activities to enjoy when I get there. I don’t like the unexpected surprise of a deer jumping out of the bush and into my path. Control. I want control.

I recently encountered some pretty intense inter-personal conflict. I don’t like conflict. I usually deal with conflict with dramatic flourish. Off with its head. And if that means someone else’s comes with it, well, so be it. This conflict left me on my knees at the throne in one of those sniveling, snotting, ugly face-bloating flip-outs with which I’m sure you have no experience but which seems to be my modus operandi with God when things are not going as planned. I accused him, loudly, of always abandoning me. I told him that his word was a lie (I did. I know. But he can take it.) I asked when he had ever rescued me and hidden me in the shelter of his wings, and I heard him reply,

            “When have you ever let me?”

Um. Sorry? What was that?

            “When have you ever let me rescue you? When have you ever given me the opportunity?”

Uh… do you see this conflict, Lord?

           “Yes. I see it. And I know what you’re planning to do about it, so why do you need me?”

Even now as I retell it I am stunned.  I almost don’t even know where to go next. I just want to sit here in the absurdity that is my faith walk and ponder my own blind stupidity. But that would be unkind to myself (and to those of you who have a first-hand experience with this same kind of folly), and it would be unproductive to remain there in self-recrimination forever. Moving on.

In the face of this profound enlightenment, I determined, with clenched fists and a spirit resigned to the coming destruction of all I knew, to be still. I promised God that I would not do one thing to protect or defend myself. I would stand motionless and I would wait for him to fight for me.
           “And I did.”

And you did, Lord. You did. Thank you.

Surrendering myself to faith in this way was like what E.L. Doctrow said. I could see nothing except what was right in front of me. There was no clear path, no anticipated destination, but only the uncertainty that comes from releasing the wheel and driving blind. (I know you’re hearing a country song here…me too…sing along if you must but stay focused.) Sometimes life demands that you navigate in the dark and you have no choice. Some things you fully understand are completely beyond your control. In those things it’s easy to surrender. What are you going to do about your kid’s cancer, anyway? But in these things, these controllable things, boy we want to wrench that wheel out of God’s hands and not only steer, but run things down. Clear a path! I’m’a comin’ through!  We leave destruction in our wake, but we’re OK with that because we saw it coming and had grown resigned to the outcome. We don’t have that kind of opportunity to prepare when we leave things to God. We are, moment-by-moment, completely helpless to his plan. And that is just plain scary until we’ve learned to trust him more than we trust ourselves. Until we’re not OK with the typical results of our own attempts at problem-solving. Until we understand that the faithful life is not a life of pain-avoidance, but of strength to stare it down and endure it. My God in heaven…it’ is terrifying to even write it. Give us strength, Lord.

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Parts of this scripture, or the whole, depending upon the moment, have become a common refrain in my life. I am learning, from one childish tantrum to the next, to simply stand still in the face of my terror and not act on my own behalf. I can’t begin to explain the suffocating panic that ignites in my soul. The desire to protect and defend myself is as strong as my instinct to breathe. I will only overcome it by the grace of God. But by that grace, I will learn to repent and rest and be quiet and trust. Because he is worthy.  

This feels a bit like going on vacation with my husband (sorry, love). I’m just along for the ride and really have no say in the matter. But you know what? I’m ready to head off into the unknown where I can’t see one blessed thing beyond the light of God’s word, believing what I see by its illumination and trusting it to go before me into the darkness until I get where I need to be.

I wanted to tell you all that in case you want to come along. I’m with you. And he’s worthy.

We interrupt this story to bring you breaking news…
Almost immediately after I put the last period on the last sentence of Driving Blind, the Lord put my bold words to the test. I was running errands and on the way home got caught up in a very large dispatch of the local police department (like all of it!). I was surrounded front and back by wailing sirens and flashing blue lights as far as I could see in both directions. I soon realized that they were headed to the high school. My son’s school. 

Your mind has already done what mine did. Gun. School. Son. School. God. No. No. Nonononononono! I did not even have words…I was truly only choking out nonsense and hoping the Holy Spirit just knew.

This is what it means to drive blind.

Many parents soon joined me in the parking lot of the school, isolated by fear but frantically staying connected to our kids through text. I don’t know why we couldn’t leave. There was nothing we could do, but as long as our kids were texting us, we felt some sense of control sitting out there on the blacktop as close to them as we could get. It was in the moments between Wil’s attempts at cheerful humor, and his declaration that his need to pee was stronger than his fear, when I would falter. I sat there thinking about driving blind and trusting my cell phone connection more than my God, and hoping that one day, in another moment, it would be me trusting my God and content in His keeping. Not that I’m asking for my faith to be proven in this way again. Not ever.

The irony in having just written Driving Blind and having this experience was not lost on me even in the moment and it proved to me the need to practice this kind of faith in the little things every day, because I am unprepared. If we never learn to trust God for moments of perceived threat, we will never be ready to trust him when we are in real trouble and can’t form more than babble as prayer. I’m convinced of this need more than ever. I hope I’ve convinced you.

post script – I want to beg you to pray for our kids. You think I have a hard time dealing with conflict?  Kids who have not been taught that their own lives matter, care not for anyone else’s. Their reaction to inter-personal conflict is to kill the other person or kill themselves. As a parent there is no way to prepare for that outcome, whether it’s your child holding the gun, or potentially caught in the crossfire. There is no light that creeps into that darkness to warn you it’s coming. Suddenly, there you are. We need some light in those dark places. We need The Body to pray it there. Please.