An Accidental Lesson

“Is this it? Is this going to be the end?” I wondered matter-of-factly as I braced for impact. I had drifted off the road, and sand covered the windshield, blocking my vision. I must have hit the brakes at some point as I tried to veer back onto the road, because I fishtailed and found myself reversing off the road on the other side, and experiencing a very bumpy ride. I remember the noise. I hit post after post as I plunged through barbed wire fencing. I lowered my head to give it some clearance in case of some jarring shock, but I finally came to a stop. It was a blur, and that’s about the most I can remember.

It felt like waking from a nightmare, but not for the reason you think. I didn’t panic, or fear, or lose consciousness at any point. My life didn’t really flash before my eyes. As I walked out of the vehicle, the first thought that hit me was, “Wow, I can’t believe it happened. Why did I just do that?.” I wished I could undo everything.

Never mind it was the second time I walked away from a pretty serious crash with nary a scratch. A bump in the head that I would feel a bit later, but that’s pretty good considering I was driving in the left lane of I-5. Most people would at this point feel lucky to be alive, or thank whatever deity they worshipped, or start believing in one. No, the first feeling I had was not one of gratitude, but of disappointment. Like I had failed my parents, who believed I was a good driver. Like I had failed my friends, who trusted my judgment and thoughtfulness. And greater than the dent in my car was the dent in my pride, as my sister so astutely pointed out before the tow truck even got there. In fact, even before, I remember feeling embarrassed the moment I went off-road and hit a few bushes, thinking, “There goes my driving record,” and then having a sinking feeling when I lost control of the vehicle: “What a stupid way to die,” with the emphasis on stupid.

I was angry at myself, and that’s about all I felt. Yes, God was sovereign. So maybe it’s His fault too for letting me be stupid. But one doesn’t blame God. In fact, He who gives and takes away is worthy of praise. Come to think of it, why didn’t I feel anything? I ought be so thankful that I was alive, that I didn’t need hospitalization, that I didn’t involve others, that all my possessions (with the exception of the car) were intact. Yet all I could feel was letdown.

I tell myself all the time that the gospel is good news. But when the rubber finally met the road, or perhaps more appropriately, left it, I was focusing on myself again. On my failure, on my suffering, on what I lacked. It was indicative of the greater spiritual dryness or possibly even depression that I had been feeling these past few months. In the end, I looked to my works, even if not in the context of salvation, at least in the context of worldly acceptance and censure. I did not look to the life, to the freedom, to the love of those around me that I still possessed.

And maybe this is part of a greater spiritual battle that I daresay all Christians face: we tend to look to our works, whether for self-justification, or self-condemnation, and we forget the greater grace given to us by our God. We are free beings, loved and cared for by our supreme ruler who also happened to create the world in which we live. He has saved our souls from deserved wrath, and nothing in all of creation can separate us from his divine love. And yet we choose to focus our attention on our petty inadequacies.

The accident happened last Saturday. It was entirely my fault. My arrogance had driven me down a slippery slope, both literally and figuratively. I thought I could control the car; I thought I could get away with just this one thing. But perhaps God is waking me up to my mortality through experience even as I ignored the words of James,

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

I’m beginning to feel like I’ve been given a second lease on life. It’s not one of those dramatic turn-around stories that you hear about in the media. Sanctification is slow. I only hope that God may keep my feet on His path.