Not long ago, I was getting on the freeway near my home. Accelerating, I checked my rearview mirror, then glanced quickly over my shoulder. Yes, there was a car in the outside lane, but many car lengths back. I had plenty of room, so signaled and began to merge.
Guess what happened next.
The other driver sped up and shot forward, nearly forcing me onto the shoulder as he passed. “Jerk!” I blurted out. (My wife wasn’t in the car. If she had been, I probably wouldn’t have said it. Not out loud, anyway.)
It wasn’t lost on me that I was on my way to church to teach a Bible class.
While musing over that one, I found myself approaching another on-ramp. This time, I was the guy already on the freeway, and three cars were accelerating down the ramp. I didn’t want to change lanes, because my exit was dead ahead. By reflex, I moved to tromp on the gas pedal. Immediately, it was as if the Holy Spirit looked at me sideways and said, “Really?” I relaxed my foot and backed off, creating space for the lead car to merge safely.
I still believe that what the other guy did was rude and inconsiderate. But I also know that I am tempted in similar ways. Thoughts of annoyance and even revenge will flit through my mind, and truth be told, what holds me back is not simply some form of goodness but the fear of retaliation.
The basic problem is that at any given moment, I see the world through eyes that firmly occupy the center of my own universe. Life is about the things I need to do and the places I need to go. When things don’t go my way, I can view other people as obstacles instead of as people: fallible and “tortured wonders” (to use Rodney Clapp’s phrase), but wonders nonetheless, created in the image of God.
It’s harder to remember that when we’re isolated from each other behind the wheels of our cars, hurtling over the blacktop. I’ve often thought that it’s the anonymity, the lack of face-to-face contact, that allows people do things with cars that they would never do with their shopping carts in the grocery store. With the possible exception of Black Friday, you don’t generally see folks get into a footrace for some coveted spot in the checkout line. There are subtle, non-verbal social negotiations that keep us from acting too selfishly.
Christians, at least, must remember that we follow a Savior who gave his very life in the loving service of others. The command to love our neighbors doesn’t have to be something esoteric and unattainable. It can start with noticing our own self-centered tendencies and remembering that the universe, in fact, does not revolve around us. We walk (and drive) this planet with others whom God loves. Kindness and consideration for others–a habit of hospitality–can go a long way.
That’s not all there is, of course. But it’s a start.