My family and I returned a couple of days ago from a vacation in Ireland. As our daughters are finishing high school and college, we have been planning this celebration of graduation for the better part of two years. It was a wonderful trip, though not absent of some adventure, not the least of which was transportation. We decided that the most advantageous way to see all we wanted to see was by renting a car and driving ourselves. And it was to our benefit, but it was not without its challenges.
In Ireland, they drive on the wrong side of the road (at least to us Americans). And on the wrong side of the car. And the roads are mostly winding, narrow, shoulderless, and bordered by ancient stone walls, hedges, and livestock. Big trucks and agricultural equipment (read “tractors”) have the gall to use these same winding, narrow, shoulderless cow paths, and “survival of the biggest” is the rule of the road. And they have “round-abouts” – those traffic circles that you occasionally see in the states where you enter the circle, flowing with the traffic, and pray that centrifugal force spits you out at the proper exit.
Both the design of the car and the design of the roads present challenges to drivers unaccustomed to them. In the car, the driver’s perspective is different. The view across the car is unfamiliar. The rearview mirror is to the left, whereas we are accustomed to looking up and right to see what’s behind us. The controls are in the wrong place; the starter and transmission shifter is left of the driver; window controls are on the right, as is the seat belt. When backing, the driver must look over his left shoulder, and controlling the car in such an orientation and visual perspective is confusing. And when one becomes familiar enough with the controls to actually get the car moving in the proper direction, he must then adjust to driving on the left side of the road; using the left lane as the slow lane and the right for passing; turning left into the inside lane and right into the outside lane; being passed on the right; positioning the car in the middle of the lane when visual perspective is unfamiliar. Then there is the constant terror of a head on collision with the locals who are driving down the cow paths at the posted speed (whereas I was often slowly hugging the stone walls and bushes on the side of the road, much to the frustration of the locals behind me). The entire process was entertaining at times (I played chicken with a trash truck the first morning, oblivious to the fact that I was on the wrong side of the road), and terrifying at other times (imagine all of the above challenges in the dark). But we survived, and enjoyed the experience.
So, what’s the point? Driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car demands constant attention, thought, and concentration. That which is unfamiliar is a challenge, whereas that which is comfortable and familiar becomes mindless. Such is a fit analogy for discipleship. Left to our own selfish desires, we pursue our wants, wishes, feelings, and urges with little thought, with less effort, and with practically no need for discipline or concentration. The “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” aren’t exactly demanding. The daily provision for the temporal is easy. It’s driving on the right side – no one has to scream, “Dad, you’re on the wrong side of the road.” We naturally drift there; the mirrors are where they’re supposed to be; we hit the window button without looking; we turn right into the right lane and never give it a second thought.
In repentance, God is demanding that we drive on the wrong side of the car and wrong side of the road (well – actually it would be the right side, but that confuses the metaphor a bit). The pursuit of the spirit demands focus, concentration, constant attention. We have lived so long in the right lane that it’s hard to “stay left.” Thus, Col.3.1f calls us to “set your mind on things above…” We cannot look away, admire the countryside, gaze upon the ocean – we have to watch the road; plot our way through the roundabout; consider the speeding traffic; remember the mirrors. We simply cannot “live according to the spirit” (Rom.8.5f) in the absence of intense discipline. The dangers are simply too great, and if we drive mindlessly we will find ourselves in the wrong lane and facing catastrophic results.
In Ireland, the rental car company provides some help for foreign drivers. First, there are labels everywhere reminding you to “drive on the left” – on the windshield; on the dashboard; on the paperwork. Then they hand you a rubber bracelet that says, “Drive on left.” Then they make sure your wife and daughters are in the car as you leave their facility. This is their major safety provision, because they constantly bark “Stay left” (mostly out of fear). All of which goes to illustrate that we need reminders of our new focus when we undertake discipleship. We need to read God’s words regularly, as they remind us of the correct side of the road. They become our window sticker; our rubber bracelet. “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deu.6.8-9). And we need our fellow travelers to help us watch, to journey with us, to remind us of the proper lane, the roundabout ahead, the speed limit, the passing car, the obstacles that we overlook. Such is the point of brotherhood and fellowship – to consider, encourage, exhort, rebuke, correct, restore each other. The role of brethren isn’t interference – it’s assistance. We need to see it that way (and don’t yell at the back seat when the back seat warns you!).
I arrived back in the States yesterday. I’m glad to be home. It was easy to drive on the comfortable right side of the car and right side of the road. I didn’t have to think about it at all. Mindless is easy. And I backed into a car today.