I’ll never forget the first time I drove alone after getting my license. Nobody warning me to slow down or watch out. Sunglasses on and my favorite music blaring. Taking the short cuts I wanted, stopping for a Coke at the mini-market, cruising by the house of the guy I secretly adored. The power and freedom were intoxicating.
But then came the accident. It wasn’t bad—a fender-bender with nobody hurt—but suddenly I didn’t feel like driving again. Not for a while, at least. It felt much better to slide into the passenger seat and let somebody else take control for a while. I still had a plastic card in my wallet that licensed me to drive, but driving wasn’t fun any more, and I doubted it ever would be again.
What happens spiritually when we abuse our freedom and end up either trashing ourselves or damaging another person? Even after repenting and forgiving, we want to cower in a corner and never try again. It’s tempting to let a person who’s more "spiritual" decide where we’re going. It feels safer to let them take charge of our spiritual life … forever.
As a follower of Jesus, however, giving up our "license" for life is not an option. After licking our wounds for a while, we’re responsible to climb behind the wheel of our lives again. Only then can God help us steer our true selves on the road of grace. Three guidelines keep us safe as we continue the journey after repentance and forgiveness.
Know where you’re headed
The first thing to remember is to choose a destination. "Without a vision," the Bible says, "the people perish." We need realistic goals that push us towards health, freedom and wholeness, and we need help getting there. Whether from our parents, friends or a mentor, making it to a finish line depends on a lot of cheers and encouragement.
Learn the rules
Second, we remember (or learn for the first time) the laws that keep us safe. When I lived in another country, everybody drove on the "wrong" side of the road. All the hand signals were different. The streets didn’t intersect in neat crosses; they ran into circles, and I had to merge into a rotary of speeding cars (better known as “circles of death”). Even though my driver’s license from America was legal, I made myself learn that country’s rules. I checked out the behavior of other drivers carefully to avoid dangerous situations.
After a wreck, steering our spiritual lives feels a lot like driving in a foreign country. But the good news is that we can stay safe by obeying the rules. A lot of them are the laws some of us grew up learning—the Ten Commandments, the golden rule. There are some new ones, though, that apply to this side of a painful experience. God’s power is made perfect in weakness, for example, so we don’t need to hide our past. We carry this treasure of the truth in clay vessels, so that everybody glimpses the power of God through our cracks and scars.
The Bible’s full of insight in how to live a life of fresh starts and second chances. We store these promises in our hearts as we take charge of our lives again.
This doesn’t mean crawling along at a snail’s pace, convinced that everybody else is out to get us. It means that we anticipate the bad mistakes and bad choices made by bad drivers. We stay out of their way.
If a group of buddies is getting heavy into the partying scene, for example, we figure it’s time to take a break from those guys. If it’s late at night and we’re alone with someone of the opposite sex, we leave before things pass the point of no return.
A defensive driver also keeps the road safe for others. If another person violates us in any way, we turn him in. We know it might make the difference between life and death for someone else.
The open road
No matter what we’ve been through in the past, we can still enjoy the exhilarating thrill of spiritual freedom. Nobody can take that away from us; Jesus Christ Himself authorized it. After choosing a reasonable destination and reminding ourselves of the rules, we start the journey again, this time driving defensively. Even so, we roll down the windows, crank up the radio and enjoy the ride. After all, in Jesus Christ, we’re licensed for life.
[For most of the year, Mitali Perkins drives the icy streets of her Massachusetts town with the windows up, thinking about what to write next. Visit her website to find out more: mitaliperkins.com.]
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