I had a motorcycle in the late 60’s. It was a custom, chopped version because my feet wouldn’t touch the ground on a regular-sized one. Ownership of this machine took place in an era when the only females seen riding a motorcycle would be spotted solely as passengers on the back of a Harley. And most likely, they were hugging the love handles of a long-haired, bearded dude, but never as the one who was driving. On the other hand, there I was, all five-foot-two of me, breaking the traditional mold of an all-male, driver-dominated sport. (At least, I thought of it as a sport…. some of my more cautious friends thought of it as unleashed stupidity.)
In stark contrast to the period of my wild biking days, I was also an executive secretary at a large Richmond corporation. I magically morphed from typewriting and taking shorthand during the day, into a free-wheeling, speed demon at night. Actually, for the longest time, because of the stigma attached to a female Evil Knevil, I cleverly hid my bike under a tarp on my apartment patio when I wasn’t riding. As extra excuse for the concealment, I seriously feared my parents would see what it really was when they made their occasional visits. The disguise worked. Naively, they thought the form under the tarp was a charcoal grill, and I let them assume I actually cooked. However, later in time, when they discovered “the grill” possessed a motor, I was threatened with the idea of being locked in a cage for the rest of my life. (To give even further support for the cage idea, I spent quite a lot of time competing with others in a quarter-mile race on I-64 late at night.) So, the truth was, I loved fast machines and risky living. You might remember I wasn’t a believer back then, so I foolishly thought maybe I had nine lives, or believed in reincarnation or something. Surely, as a testimony to the fact that I’m still very much alive, God had other plans for me, but not without lots and lots of grace, and a whole truckload of hard lessons.
Joe and I were dating at the time during which I owned this speedy bike. Mr. Joe Conservative was at the opposite end of the speed scale. He drove a very used (abused) 1963 Chevrolet Corvair, which had to be pushed to start much of the time… an extremely unromantic way to go on a date. Joe was merely into having a safe set of wheels which would reliably get him from place to place without burning a lot of gasoline. He wasn’t the least bit interested in risking his life as a thrill. He was the smart one.
One day, I suggested I take him for a ride as a passenger on my motorcycle. He reluctantly agreed. Young love makes us do stupid things. Joe was twice my size and a foot taller than I, so consequently, I was a little challenged by his extra weight and tall stature, but what the heck, right? Importantly, the one thing I insisted he learn before we were to embark on our joy ride, was no matter how far the bike leans into a turn, he must trust me and lean with the bike. I said, “You have to completely forget what your emotions will tell you. It may feel as though the top layer of your skin may be removed from your knees, as we’ll be leaning when we go around curves. I assure you… the bike will be fine. Trust me…please resist the urge to compensate by leaning the other way to keep from falling over.” (I’ll bet you can see where this is going.) Well, unfortunately while rounding a turn, Joe instinctively straightened up, instead of leaning into the slope of the road. I lost control and I ended up dumping us in a ditch. (Fortunately, it was a grassy one.) After composing ourselves, we gradually recovered our teeth and straightened our skin. With great composure, Joe immediately shouted, “I’ll never let you ride me again. I should have gone with my gut. I definitely don’t trust that the same thing won’t happen again, so I’m done!” Great. So much for impressing my date. So much for building trust. The mean old ditch definitely interrupted our joyride, not to mention it scratched the new paint job on my beautiful bike.
In future weeks, it took awhile before we could think beyond the wet, muddy grass of the bike mishap. I questioned whether I would ever have trust in my capability to ride someone safely again, and Joe definitely swore off motorcycles forever. The ditch was embedded in our minds, and it transformed the way we thought about trust on many levels…. in some ways, wisely, and in some ways, foolishly. We were both impacted by the ditch-experience, and his lack of trust in my motorcycle-driving ability became a cautionary memory from that day forward.
On a similar note, how many times have you and I been in a “ditch” of life, and proclaimed God didn’t keep us safe as a rider, vowing never to trust Him again? Or, at least, saying we’ll do everything to keep from getting hurt again, so we won’t even risk an uncertain situation we can’t control? How about when you’ve been trying to love that difficult person and you get nothing back? I’ve just recently had a conversation with God where I just crumbled, and said, “I’m so tired, Lord. I’m so done. I don’t feel like climbing out. Just leave me here in the ditch because it feels safer, even though it’s painful. ” Sadly, we’re all creatures who have short memories and skewed perspectives. As a result, we don’t often remember God’s faithfulness, or see His good purposes when we’re laying in a ditch of life. We just say, “I’m done.” Do you ever feel that way?
To jog your memory, in most of his New Testament letters, the apostle Paul surely found himself in a lot of ditches, didn’t he? Yet, somehow he was able to preach the gospel, not only to others, but also to himself. Wouldn’t you like to be able to do that? Wouldn’t you find it comforting to be able to climb up out of a ditch more quickly and confidently than you used to? Or, while you’re laying in the ditch, see it as purifying and not punishment?
God occasionally places (never dumps) us in ditches for good purposes. No, it doesn’t feel good. No, it may not make good sense to us at the time, and no, it isn’t something we invite as a welcome guest. However, these times are the very ones which reveal to us what we really believe. They’re the occasions where we’re challenged to put into practice what we often speak with our mouths. When our faith is proven genuine, it gives us confidence to press on, as it establishes renewed hope in being able to better weather the storms of the future. It gladly lessens the fear of the unknown, and increases our trust in the One who is known.
So, where do we start when we’re trying to reorient ourselves as we’re struggling to get out of the ditch? First of all, by recognizing that it’s a work of the Holy Spirit….so to ask Him to shift your focus. Instead of filtering the event through your own eyes (and your world), try seeing it through God’s eyes…..become willing to put on His glasses, which will give you corrected 20/20 spiritual vision.
Secondly, (this will challenge you from the get-go), turn around and decide whose purposes are primary to your life…. yours or God’s. Ask yourself if you care more about the fact that God is using the ditch to conform you into the person of Christ, than you care about how painful or inconvenient it is. Romans 8:28, is a verse we hear quoted often….”And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Notice it doesn’t generally say, “All things happen to everyone for their good.” It explicitly states that, for those whom God has called, they are called expressly for His purposes. Because of that relationship, everything which happens in the life of a believer has the directed good purpose of conforming them into the likeness of His son (Romans 8:29). Isn’t this what we want as believers? Would we rather God just leave us alone as we are? I should think not.
And finally, during hard times, because we’re so quick to fall into a self-protected mindset of victimhood, we often swear off any further trust that God knows what He’s doing, or that He doesn’t care. Speak the truth to yourself, instead of being convinced of a lie telling you the way it feels is what is true. Our Maker has given us truth to live by. We can trust that. However, because I’m sure you’ve figured out that life isn’t a smooth, straight road, there are curves we have to lean into that may feel as though God can’t drive. There are times when we feel as though we’ve gotten dumped, but actually God has been steering just fine all along.
Contrary to the ditch in which I unintentionally dumped Joe and me, God never does anything by accident. If you’ve found yourself feeling as though you’ve been dumped, take heart. It has been God working His ultimate plan for you, NOT to be stuck in a ditch, but rather for you to be able to embrace the power of Christ as He settles you and lifts you out. How can we become like Christ if we haven’t experienced Him and all that He is? Our Creator wants the absolute best for us… and the very best is to look squarely into the face of Christ and see Him reflected back in us. Isn’t that the goal of our sanctification? To become like Him?
Here’s a crazy thought….a ditch is really a gift. We’re in the workshop of God, being carefully crafted into the person of Christ. He’s lovingly shaping, molding and refining. He’s smoothing the rough edges. We’re given the opportunity to trust Him to steer us perfectly as we wait. Ditches feel dangerous, scary, deep, and lonely. But, in reality it’s quite the opposite. Each ditch means we’re one step closer to the finished product. Of course, we won’t be entirely ready until we’re with Him, but isn’t it encouraging that He cares enough to continue working on us? We’ll never be dumped on the side of the road by God. When He says, “Lean with Him,” we must listen. Every ditch is an indication He’s at work… engaged with us and committed to us. Turn Around and see. Reorient yourself to His plan and purpose. That’s how those of us in Christ make sense of hard times. We don’t get stuck on how it feels, but rather what we know to be true. The truth is….. He can be trusted, and feelings will deceive you. You can lean into that at every turn.
Blessings in 2020, and Happy New Year!!