Grace Notes

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Faith stuck in one gear

By Nancy Kennedy

When I met my husband he drove a totally hot car, a brand-new 1973 Mercury Comet GT, white with burnt orange pinstripes and burnt orange interior.

And it had a manual transmission.

Because we were young and newly in love and Barry had miles of patience, he attempted to teach me to drive it. It helped that we lived in Northern Maine, where there wasn't much to crash into except snow banks and caribou.

I was a willing, but not an adept, student. The whole clutch, brake, gas pedal thing was just one too many pedals and sequence of operations for me to contend with. Every time I ground the gears, Barry squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth, thinking about the cost of a new clutch.

I had wanted to learn to drive the Comet because it was so cute, but every time I got behind the wheel I couldn't concentrate on where I was going, and I especially couldn't enjoy the ride because I was too uptight about the mechanics and how I was doing and whether or not I was doing something wrong that would end up costing a trunkload of money - and what's that noise and that smell?

Now, some people do perfectly fine driving with a stick shift, but I am not one of them. I'm actually a danger on the road, to myself and everyone around me.

Plus, if all I'm doing is concentrating on making all the right moves (which I agree is important when driving a car), then I'll miss all the fun of driving. I'll miss the scenery and the feel of the wind on my face with the windows rolled down.

Did you ever meet a person who was obsessive about doing everything right? The woman who can't enjoy the dinner she prepared for company because she's worried about the rolls being doughy or the gravy lumpy? Or the man who tiles a bathroom and stays awake at night because one tile has a teeny chip in it that only he can see?

Or the Christians who live their lives in continual fear of being out of God's will or of accidentally committing the unpardonable sin?

An easy way to recognize such people - they're often insecure and critical, mostly of themselves, sometimes of others, and they're uncomfortable to be around. They're like me trying to drive with a stick shift, concentrating so hard on what I'm doing that I can't see the tree I'm about to hit. If you're my passenger, you're poised to bail out of the car.

Every time I took the Comet out I was afraid that I'd crash it and Barry would be mad.

I heard a preacher once say, "The less secure a Christian is in his or her relationship to the Father, the more uneasy and the more he or she will strive toward perfection and control."

Then he said, "Such a person won't let go of the control of anything until he or she can trust giving the control over to God."

The fear of not being perfect and not keeping the rules and not doing everything correctly stems from not believing that you are loved. The woman who is secure in her family and friends' love won't stress over doughy rolls. Likewise, the Christian who's secure in God's love and that he doesn't disown his own won't be afraid of making a wrong choice.

Secure Christians loosen up a little, dance a little, make fools of themselves for Jesus.

They give up the controls and let God drive, sticking their heads out the window, feeling the wind on their faces and trusting that not only does God know the road, but that he will ultimately bring them safely home.

The saga of the Comet has a bittersweet ending. Shortly after I got myself stuck on a hill and Barry had to come and rescue me in his big work truck, he decided to trade his totally hot car for one with an automatic shift.

And we lived happily ever after, enjoying the ride.