Grace and Mercy on the Interstate

Cars_in_I-70,_KOMUnewsI left the house later than my normal five minutes, determined to make up the time on my 27-mile commute. As usual, I got stuck behind someone in the fast lane, no doubt someone who’d just crawled down from the Appalachian hills. Don’t these people know what a fast lane is? He drove like a synchronized swimmer, his movements in perfect harmony with the pick-up next to him in the slow lane. My frustration boiled. I’ll never make up the time now!

Finally I saw my chance. The truck pulled off and I swerved to pass my slowpoke on the right side, returning to the fast lane just in front of him so I wouldn’t get tangled up with cars from the next on-ramp. (I also hoped to teach him a lesson.) I pushed down on my gas pedal, and that’s when I saw them. Flashing blue lights. I’d just pulled in front of an unmarked state trooper.images479YF6JJ

The officer approached my window. “That whole way, we were drivin’ together so nice and I was givin’ you an extra five miles an hour and tryin’ to keep you there–for your own good. I thought we were gettin’ kinda chummy. Now why’d you have to go and pass me?”

“I’m sorry. There’s no excuse. I’m late for work–”

“Obviously.”

“That’s not an excuse. It was stupid. I did wrong.”

As he sat in his car to write up my ticket, I realized that maybe all those other people who go too slow in the fast lane are actually doing me a favor. Maybe they’ve kept me from getting other tickets. Maybe they’ve kept me from an accident. Maybe I should be grateful to them.

My officer returned. “I decided just to give you a warnin’ today. But please, do me a favor and leave five minutes earlier tomorrow. You don’t need to see my smilin’ face again early in the mornin’.”

I thanked him. Promised I’d leave earlier. Didn’t make promises I know I’ll break (“I’ll never go over the speed limit ever again”).

And I realized I’d seen grace in action. I didn’t deserve this reprieve. I deserved a ticket. Instead, I received a gift.

Why me?

For the rest of my commute—driving at the speed limit—I pondered why we remember the times we’ve been pulled over when someone else—who deserves the ticket more—goes whizzing by, and forget all the times we should’ve been ticketed but weren’t. What is it about us that makes our memory so selective? Or is it just me? Can you relate?

I thought of something I read 35-ish years ago, The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck. My inadequate paraphrase is that rather than look at bad things that happen with a “why me?” attitude, we should think of all the times we’ve escaped harm and think “why not me?”runaway-ramp-placement-inline-photo-365758-s-original

One day a week, I drive to Asheville for my master’s classes and to help our branch campus with miscellaneous projects. Invariably, as I drive up the mountain in the daylight, I see a tractor trailer on the other side, one that had to use the sandy runaway ramp, often sitting flat on its bed with its wheels splayed outward. I think of what it must’ve felt like for the driver of a car that this out-of-control truck chased downhill. And then I realize that God has shown his mercy to me every week when I drive home, down the mountain, in the dark, often in heavy fog or ice or rain. I’ve escaped harm that some have not escaped.

Why not me?

I have no answers to these questions.

All I know is that yesterday, I had a glimpse of God’s lavish, completely unmerited, freely-given, impossible-to-earn, glorious grace. I am thankful. And I hope I won’t forget it.

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