I Gave Up a Life of Crime for Lent
by Phil Olson
Back in January, while driving down I-95, God's Spirit pricked my conscience and pierced my heart. I was on the way to visit a pastor-counselor in order to ask him to tell a mutual friend, "Repent publicly so that you may enjoy God's full healing and allow others who had been hurt by you to experience their own healing."
But there was a problem. While I was driving and planning my saintly speech, I looked down at my speedometer. I was going at least 70 mph – well, maybe it was 75. Since the speed limit on that part of the interstate was 65 mph, I was speeding, breaking the law, sinning.
What an irony!? Here I was, headed for a conversation that hopefully would lead to a confrontation so that a sinner-friend of mine would come under the convicting power of the Spirit. "Back off on the gas, dude, you're no better than he is." So I slowed down…for a bit.
Then I realized that since I had planned my route based on previous driving experiences (i.e., driving 70-75 mph), so I had to pick up speed again – i.e., break the law, sin. When I missed my turn and drove several miles out of the way, I again had to speed through various speed limit signs to make up for the lost time. Compound the sin.
All during this period of conviction, I tried to rationalize my behavior:
> everyone else is speeding, so I'm just going with the flow of traffic;
> cops don't ticket speeders unless you go a certain number of mph over the speed limit;
> I'll be late;
> I am late;
> other drivers are going way over the speed limit;
> Billy Squires was right: "I can't drive 55!";
> if I slow down, I'll get run over by an 18-wheeler or SUV; and
> etc., ad nauseam.
After my conversation re: repentance with the pastor-counselor ("told him a thing or two!"), I proceeded to fall back into my nasty habit of sinning, a.k.a. speeding. "Have to get back to the office on time! People will worry if I'm late."
As I gave my driving behavior some more consideration, I thought about all the talks I had given as a youth director/pastor concerning peer pressure:
> don't go with the flow, even if you lose friends;
> just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean you should (as every mother has told us);
> don't obey because it's "the law," obey because it's right – no matter what the cost;
> don't do it because it's convenient, do it based on conviction; and
> etc., ad nuisance.
So, when Lent rolled around, I gave up my life of crime.
It hasn't been easy. Yes, I have created traffic tie-ups. Yes, I've noticed certain hand signals in my rearview mirror. Yes, I've almost been run over on numerous occasions. No, my family doesn't like driving with me anymore. Yes, I've received strange looks from passing police officers. Yes, I feel a little (sometimes a lot) self-righteous at times ("I'm the only one obeying the law").
But there have been benefits to this exercise – or, given the season of Lent – this discipline. I'm not worried about the speed traps along the highways and byways. I'm enjoying the scenery a bit more, especially since I'm trying to take the back roads because the speed zones are more manageable. I'm less frazzled (unless I'm driving through the construction zone on I-295 where the speed limit is 45 mph and people continue to fly through the zone at 65). I'm saving some gas (a good thing since ESA is a member of the Evangelical Environmental Network and the price of gas has skyrocketed). I'm having a bit more empathy with those who struggle with addictions, compulsive behaviors, and out-of-control lifestyles (e.g., rushing to and fro).
I do see a big problem approaching (and it's not another 18-wheeler or a police car looming in my rearview mirror). How do I tell God that when Lent is over I'm going back to my life of crime? After all, I can't stop speeding forever, can I? (Perhaps my sinner-friend won't have to give up his sinful ways either!) I think next year I'll try giving up chocolate…again.