After dropping Alison at the bus stop, I was sitting at the red light on 71st street waiting to go straight across into my neighborhood. It’s a tricky light, because you can’t always see the cars coming across if you’re turning left. A mom (important part to note) in a hefty SUV didn’t see me and proceeded to sail through her left turn while I inched to a stop in the middle of the intersection. They she shot me her middle finger, raised high and mighty with her child in the front seat and two children in the back seat. She kept it up all the way through her turn and still hadn’t put it down after she was on 71st street. I was sitting in the intersection gawking before I slowly moved on through. I had the right-of-way, but realized that when you are in a hurry to get your kid to school, those pesky little rules of the road often get lost in the tense moments.
“Really lovely,” I muttered to no one. “And with her kids in the car.”
And then I realized: I know that lady. I know her well.
She is me.
Okay, I do not flash my middle finger while driving, or at any other time. Every time I see someone do this, I picture them as an eight-year-old kid on the playground trying to get attention, or as a beer-bellied sports fan of the other team yelling obscenities to refs on the field who are far out of earshot. I’m not making a moral judgement on the woman and her naughty finger. I’m looking deeper than her gesture and seeing something in her that I can relate to: a tenseness that can string us so tightly that when we snap we look a little crazy.
Sometimes that tension emanates from stress, fear, and – in my own life lately – busyness. These days I’m wearing too many hats and juggling too many balls, but feel unable to take them off or lay them down. It’s the season of my life and while I accept it and realize it’s temporary, I find myself irritable, impatient, and too-vocal about things that get under my skin. I’ve not had the desire to shoot my finger up, but I have grumbled under my breath at people who walk slowly in the grocery store. I’ve given the dogs lectures about their co-dependence (aren’t the pets always an easy target?), and I’ve declared to my husband and children that if they didn’t hear me the first time, I will not be repeating previous statements or questions: “I’m too tired to replay what you should have heard if you had been listening.”
Ouch. Yeah, a little crazy.
So while I can sit comfortably high in moral superiority to the mom in the SUV, I kind of empathize with her. We’re too tense. Too easily ticked off and offended. Wound too tightly Our hurried days cause us to ignore the many rules of the road that surround us when it comes to our relationships. We’re trying to get somewhere, make something happen, please a lot of people, fix a bunch broken things, shout above the crowd to be heard. Many people are holding on by a fraying thread. And when a little vehicle threatens to get in the way of that frenetic pace, it can all come spilling out in an ugly gesture, an insensitive word, or worse, a blindness to the needs of those around us.
I’ve spent the morning thinking about that lady and feeling sorry that her day began with a spurt of rage. I thought about my own crazy pace and wondered how I can possibly get everything done and not feel like I’m the one careening through the intersection snarling at everyone to get out of my way. And then I remember that Jesus said he’d take that yoke (that’s the burden of crazy lives we carry on our shoulders). He offered to trade it for lightness because he doesn’t demand all that we demand of ourselves. And he certainly doesn’t demand what the world demands of us.
Sitting in my office chair, I could almost hear his voice saying, “Just take it easy. Go about your business, but know that I’ve lightened the load.” I used to wonder what that really meant. Is he going to fix things? Make me more productive? Move the annoying people out of my life?
No. He’s just going to remind me that whatever happens, I’m good. The world isn’t depending on my heroic efforts, my perfection, or my achievements. I don’t have to keep getting better at something or prove how indispensable I am or fix anyone. God isn’t depending on these things. “You’re good,” he says in Matthew 11:29-30. “Stop being so wound up about it.” (Major paraphrase) I think that’s all any of us really want to know: that we’re loved and accepted and wrapped up in arms that tell us to just take it easy.
I’m sure the lady in the SUV has settled into her day. I said a little prayer for her, and for me – that we would calm down, take a deep breath, and lean on the One who is gentle and humble so that we can find rest for our weary souls.