I remember the first time I actually drove a car on a “real” road.
Prior to then, my mother had been teaching me the basics in parking lots and on winding cemetery roads where there were really no other cars and nothing in the way. During those times the car moved at a crawl as I tried to get used to controlling the enormous, moving weapon that held the secrets of getting teenage me anywhere I wanted to go.
To say we were both nervous, then, was an understatement.
It went well at first, until I approached a stoplight. “Light,” my mother reminded me. I started to slow down. Not enough, as it turned out. “Light,” she reminded me again as we made only a slight decrease in speed. I slammed on the brakes.
Fortunately, the seatbelts did their job, and kept us mostly in our seats.
We waited at the light. My hands were sweaty on the wheel. “I knew to stop,” I said defensively. “I wasn’t ignoring the light.” I didn’t know how to explain that I didn’t yet have that driving instinct that told you when to start slowing, how to get the car rolling gracefully again. “I–”
“Green,” said my mom.
“I’m trying to tell you,” I said tearfully, “that I saw the light and–”
“Green,” said my mother, pointing to the light. Oops. I hit the gas and the car bucked forward violently, then hurtled down the road. My mom put her hand on the dash and I saw her take a calming breath.
But that’s how it goes. Learning to drive is a hilarious mess of abrupt starts and jerking starts, last-minute turns that pin passengers to the side of their car door, diversions into interesting territory – because it’s cool to listen to music – that last only until you see the brakelights on a car in front of you and come to another shuddering stop.
Now I drive without thinking about it. I drive the way I remember that my mother used to drive, like it’s an instinct. I roll to a gentle stop at lights. I pick up the pace again when they change. My thirty-minute commute to work on country roads is peaceful and calm and automatic. Even when a situation surprises me or something unexpected happens, my body and my mind have been trained to respond well. I don’t simply drive off the road in a panic like I might have in those early days.
My faith should be the same, but it’s not.
Too often I engage in what I call “twitchy Christianity.” I veer off the road screaming at the first sign of difficulty. I give up easily. I readjust course wildly without taking the time to be calm and think about what I’m doing. I become enveloped by my own emotions. I lose the instinct I should have developed to inform my actions and I become a jerking mess of stops and starts.
We all do it. We hit the boiling point of anger far too soon over issues far too small: perceived slights, the actions of an unbeliever, an internet comment, a person we don’t like. We fall into sorrow and terror at the first sign of an obstacle or a fork in the road that we don’t know how to handle. We leap into wild joy when something goes right, but all too often the joy only lasts until something goes wrong.
But we’re not meant to be that way. Listen to the beginning of Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
The version of belief that Psalms presents us with here is so counter-intuitive to the way most of us handle life situations. Here the Psalmist describes natural chaos, the mingling of what sounds like both an earthquake and a tsunami: the earth collapsing, strong mountains falling into a frothing ocean. This is an upheaval of everything natural, normal, and good: a violation of the foundation and the earth.
The response of the believer in the circumstance is a calm and steely-eyed one. Aware that God does not change, the believer accepts even the catastrophic with a calm certainty. And here I think of Christ at the cross, who embodies this – who, even facing the anguish of the cross and feeling anguish Himself, nevertheless calmly and resolutely accepted what God had planned, because He knows God’s goodness endures.
The world lately feels, to me, full of emotion. Everyone’s walking on a knife-edge of uncertainty and fear and sorrow. Tragedies occur every single day, sending people and countries into panic. And in our own lives, we often veer back and forth like novice drivers from sorrow to joy to panic. We’re always tempted to action, always tempted to control our circumstances, our selves and our moods always defined by whatever happens to be going on around us at any given moment.
But that’s not how we’re meant to be. The calm, the resolute, the steely-eyed faith is ours. The sameness in spite of changing circumstances is ours. The “nothing has changed for me regardless of what has changed around me” is ours. And it is a necessary mark of our faith to begin moving away from twitchy Christianity and kneejerk responses to the world to a fuller and more realized faith: one where we can observe mountains collapsing and the earth heaving without fear.
People can’t not notice that.