Riding in cars with preachers

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).

In normal times–that means non-pandemic days–preachers tend to log a lot of miles on their cars.

And, in my opinion, most preachers tend to drive aggressively.

I’m a preacher. In a typical, “normal” year, I will log 35,000 miles on my car, mostly traveling to preach.

Now, I work hard at driving well, and my wife says I do well.  But sometimes I wish someone would ride with me and point out if I’m doing something wrong or a bad habit I’ve fallen into.

My notes remind me of three occasions when I found myself riding with pastors as we drove to their churches.

In each case, I did unto them as I want someone to do unto me. That is, I helped the pastor with his driving.  (smiley-face goes here)

Pastor one was driving with one finger on the steering wheel.  The highways were winding, the road was narrow, the shoulders were non-existent, and the traffic was often heavy.   The pastor drove with one finger on the wheel.

Pastor two delayed snapping his seat belt until we were out of the driveway and in the street.

Pastor three was talking with his hands while driving.  Often, neither hand was on the wheel.

In every case, as far as I could tell, the pastors were great drivers. They had safe records and the confidence of their families when they were behind the wheel. All are terrific fellows and faithful brothers in the Lord.

But each was asking for trouble.

Now, I am well aware that criticizing a friend’s driving is hazardous.  We are walking a fine line here and could end up offending a devout man of God and injuring our friendship.

But it’s worth the risk.

Too much is at stake.

To the first pastor, who uses only the index finger of his left hand to steer the car, I said, “May I tell you something about your driving? You are a good driver, that’s plain to see. But you are asking for big trouble, my friend. All you need is to hit a pothole or have a blow-out or an animal run across in front of your car. By the time you realize what is happening and signal your hands to grab hold of the steering wheel, the damage is done.”

“I really wish you would put both hands on the steering wheel.”

To the second driver, who delays buckling his seat belt, I said, “I noticed that you and your wife both (she had driven me to church earlier that day) drive away from the house without the seat belt being buckled.” He was quick to say, “I’ve got it on. See?” I said, “I do see. Good. At my house, the car never leaves the driveway until everyone’s belt is in place.”

I was pushing the envelope here, perhaps. Straining at a gnat.  And, of course, I lived half my life before seatbelts became mandatory, so clearly not buckling up is not to commit suicide.  But still.  Buckling up before shifting into ‘drive’ is a great practice.

To the third driver, with more gestures than a Broadway actor, I said nothing. I quietly reached over and gently took hold of his hand in mid-air and moved it to the steering wheel. He laughed and got the point. The next day, when he was into the same let-the-car-drive-itself mode while-I-make-motions-with-both-hands, once again I said nothing but moved his hand to the wheel.

I shudder recalling the times both his hands were off the wheel so he could make hand motions for his conversation–and that was in the dark when no one could even see them!

When a bad habit takes root, it requires no logical reason from then on.

What did I accomplish?

Did I do any good with my friends? I sure hope so. These are great guys and their families need them to live to ripe old ages. The kingdom of God needs their ministries.

Did I offend them? They didn’t seem to be offended. But even if they had been, it was worth my gentle rebuke if it prevents a tragic accident.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”

The question before us, class, is “What do you do when it’s clear the person driving the car is doing something unsafe?” And my answer–as you have seen–is “Speak up.” Better to offend (“the wounds of a friend”) than to sit there in silence and let them endanger everyone.

Teenagers should be taught this.  Many a teen has lost his/her life because the driver was taking chances and his riders were too timid to speak up.  (I used to tell my kids if they found themselves in that situation and the driver would not listen, to fake car sickness and threaten to “throw up.”  When he stopped the car, get out and walk.  “Call home and I will come get you.”)

I’m remembering a scary time when my refusing to speak up almost cost the lives of our entire family.

My wife Margaret was driving. We were returning from the beach and were on a two-lane highway made of concrete.  From where I sat on the right side, I could see an accident in the making: the right front tire was drifting mighty close to the edge of the pavement. What made that critical was the four inch drop-off between the concrete and the shoulder. This was an unsafe highway.

Amazingly, I watched passively as Margaret drove closer and closer to the edge of the pavement.  (And yes, ever since I have screamed at myself in silence, wondering how in the world I could sit still, seeing what was happening and not speak up. I have no excuse.)

But I know why I was silent.

My wife did not take my criticizing her driving kindly. She would say I always had to be right, that I was the know-it-all. Any husband who knows his wife is not going to react kindly to his criticism will choose it wisely and give it sparingly.

That’s why I almost let our family be killed that day.

Suddenly, the right wheel dipped off the pavement and the car was thrown into a frenzy. Margaret jerked the wheel to the left to compensate and the tire blew. Now, the car went into a spin, turning round and round on the highway, covering both lanes. We were probably traveling 60 mph.

I can still hear my younger son in the back seat calling out, “What’s happening? What’s happening?”

It was a frightening feeling and there was not one thing anyone could do. The car was spinning out of control.

Finally we came to a stop in our lane, facing the opposite direction from which we had come.

A man came running out of a house to check on us. What he said was even more frightening.

“While your car was spinning around on the highway, an 18-wheeler passed you. You folks came that close to buying the farm!”

God was with us.

We pulled the car off to the side, put the spare tire on, and continued on to Meridian, Mississippi, where we bought a new tire.

I drove the rest of the way home. Margaret was so unnerved by this, she would not touch the steering wheel. In subsequent discussions, she admitted that she was unable to tell where the right wheels of the car were at any given time. So, we actually had lessons–practice sessions in the mall parking lot–on gauging the location of the front tires of your car.

I wished a thousand times I had spoken up and told my wife what she was doing that day and how it was endangering everyone. Hopefully, I could have found the right words, words not accusatory but definitely to the point.  (Margaret has been in Heaven for over six years now, but long ago gave me permission to share this story in order to help someone else.)

Speaking up might save a life. It might save a whole family.

Criticizing someone’s driving may even be the ultimate act of love.

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