I confess … I am one who likes to be in control. Ask Mary or Mike who rents the car when we travel to denominational events? They’ll tell you … it’s me. I consistently volunteer to “serve” my fellow presbytery staffers, frankly, because I like to know that I have control over where we’re going and when we’ll be there. Being “out of control” is my biggest fear. The thought of losing control of my mind, my body, my health, my career, my marriage, my kitchen, my …. fill in the blank … is often the subject of my most vivid nightmares.
For close to a quarter century I’ve been preaching that none of us have control over our lives, that trusting God to love us and care for us and provide for us is the basis of faith and the assurance of the Gospel. The truth is I never preach anything I don’t believe, and I have always believed that God would take care of everyone and everything … except me. I trust God to work miracles in your life, but mine? Well, that’s a different story. And, I’m being brutally honest here, I don’t trust that God will have MY best interest at heart, or do things MY way … so I convince myself it’s better for me if I keep control over myself and my life. But, my friends, we can’t. Being in control of our lives … it’s a myth.
On Sunday, September 5, around noon God revealed this truth to me, the painful way. Dwayne and I were riding our motorcycles through the hill country, just outside of Boerne. As we came to what we later realized the locals call “dead man’s curve”, I slowed down and leaned to the left. I leaned so far my bike was scraping loudly against the pavement, and sparks were flying. I was going too fast for my Yamaha cruiser to make the curve. I set the bike up a little, so the scraping would stop, but that spun the bike off the pavement. As soon as my front wheel hit the sandy gravel of the road’s shoulder, the bike and I parted ways; I was tumbling, spinning, rolling towards the ground. For what was probably only a fraction of a second, but seemed to me like an eternity, I realized I couldn’t stop what was coming. I was rolling, and I had absolutely no control over where I would land, what I would hit, or how long I’d be rolling.
It was a couple months later, as I was journaling with a group of pastors at Pat Clark’s house, that I realized: that eternal fraction of time was a pivotal moment of faith for me. What I thought would have been the scariest moment of my life, was, in fact, the time I was most at peace. It may have been the gracious gift of adrenaline running through my veins, but in the very moment I felt totally out of control, I experienced the all-consuming grace of God. I felt loved; I felt the providential arms of God enveloping me; I had faith.
The myth of control is really just that … myth. All of us are constantly tumbling through space like I was around dead man’s curve. But God sends us what we need when we need it. The first man to stop and see how I was doing said, “Good thing we don’t call it ‘dead woman’s curve’!” I laughed. The second couple to stop had gone to high school with the first man, and they were reconnected after close to two decades. I am amazed by what God does. That’s what Christians do. We trust in and are amazed by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. We trust that no matter what curves the road of life brings us, God is in charge and provides everything we need – even if it’s not what we want.
I didn’t want to wipe out that afternoon. And I don’t like the lack of movement in my shoulder that may remain with me the rest of my life. I don’t like it, and I don’t have to like it, but even these things are God’s gift. The wipe out was fear confronted and overcome by the power of the Spirit. The shoulder is more than an inconvenient impediment in raising the elements of communion or pronouncing the benediction … it is a sign of my own mortality, and my utter reliance on God’s graciousness.
I confess … I still like to be in control … but I also realize that relying on the power of the Spirit of Christ is so much more powerful and lovely and amazing than anything I could ever imagine on my own. Thanks be to God!