It started out innocently enough. I had just finished a counseling session, and I was going to stop by the grocery store on my way home. In an area of town that I don’t often drive through, I used GoogleMaps to find my route and was listening to a podcast as I pulled up to a traffic light, turned right, realized where I was, and casually proceeded to drive the final mile to the store. Pulling into the left turn lane, I noticed a black SUV was right on my tail. When I made my turn into the parking lot, so did the SUV, which was suddenly lit by red flashing lights.
Had I been speeding?
Indeed, I had. I had been going about 47 mph in an area marked 35, where “the residents have been complaining about speeding drivers.”
Sigh. It’s not the first time, but it’s the first time since I’ve been back in Michigan. Because of that, the officer wrote my ticket for only 5 over the limit and informed me that instead of getting points added to my license, I could take an online driving course. It would be easy, he said, and my insurance company would not get notified of my offense.
So here I am spending my morning taking one of several ‘certified by the State of Michigan’ Basic Driver Improvement Courses. That’ll be $37.45, please. (In addition to the $150 or whatever I paid for the ticket. Ouch.)
One recurring message in the course is that attitude has a significant impact on driving. The content warns against driving when angry, sick, impaired, or distracted. I am, of course, already aware of the impact of driving under emotional distress, and truly, I was pretty relaxed when I was pulled over. I was not angry or overly emotional despite just coming from therapy. I wasn’t distracted by my phone — I had looked at my maps, yes, but my route really required just two turns and about three miles of driving, so I didn’t need to keep the app open. I had a podcast running, but it was Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love, which is like having a good friend riding shotgun — pleasant conversation sprinkled with laughter. Nevertheless, my mind was not fully focused on driving. I was watching the road, yes. I knew what street I was on and where my destination was, but I truly did not see the officer until he was right on my tail, and when he asked me if I knew how fast I had been driving, I had to admit that I had no idea. My attitude wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t fully engaged.
The course suggests a driving mindset that involves SIPDE — Scanning, Identifying, Predicting, Deciding, and Executing. We should, in order to avoid accidents, be continuously Scanning the road ahead, behind, and around us; Identifying potential dangers such as weather, erratic drivers, and changes in traffic patterns; Predicting what might happen — slippery roads, flat tires, sudden slow-downs; Deciding what we will do if any of our predictions come true; and Executing our plans when the need arises.
Sounds like a great plan, but if I’m gonna be honest (and by this point, you know I am), that is not the way I drive or do anything, for that matter. I barrel through life ‘handling’ what is front of me. I know, I know, numerous posts on this blog discuss my turning away from soldiering ways, and I do try. Really, I do. But guys, these patterns are hard-wired; any attempts at change further expose how far-reaching they are.
Most of my life runs on auto-pilot. Get up. Eat. Caffeinate. Shower. Dress. Drive. Teach. Eat. Teach. Drive. Cook. Eat. Clean. Sleep. Insert reading, puzzling, laundry, conversation, worship, exercise, etc. as needed. Lather, rinse, repeat.
So, when I said in my recent post, Old Dog, New Trick, that I was working on reprogramming my internal constructs so that I can experience emotions more healthfully, I was actually committing to a life-time effort at change. Each minor change will expose the next area of dysfunction — kind of like that proverbial string of Christmas lights; just when you have replaced one burned out bulb, you discover that three more are faulty. Similarly, this little three-hour basic driving course is exposing a symptom — failure to focus on driving — of a larger systemic problem — failure to focus on life. When I fail to focus on driving, and disregard the SIPDE system, I risk a collision. When I fail to focus on life, and disregard opportunities to scan, identify, predict, decide, and execute, I risk myriad kinds and degrees of disaster.
For me, it usually takes a brush with the law — penal or spiritual — to stop what I’m doing, examine the situation, pay the fine, and consider change.
Yeah, we’re not talking about a speeding ticket any more.
As per usual in my life, the lesson is layered. I’m a slow learner, to be sure, and I need my instruction to be differentiated. It’s not likely that I will learn to slow down my mental processes and my life patterns unless I have a tangible representation to glue the lesson to — a speeding ticket, and not just a speeding ticket, but a speeding ticket that requires me to sit through traffic school.
My friend the other night at our small group, the one I mentioned here, reminded me that we often just want to treat the symptoms, but unless we deal with the root problem, the symptoms will not go away. My husband said yesterday that if we have a hole in the roof and we just keep putting out buckets to catch the incoming rain, we’ll be forever emptying buckets. However, if we climb up on the roof, assess the damages, call in a professional, and fix the problem, we can put the buckets away.
I’ve been carrying and emptying buckets my whole life.
And I’m tired.
So, what, my dears, is the root of the problem? I think I’m getting closer to the source. I’m picturing that it has something to do with a mind bent on surviving rather than living, on putting out fires rather than planting trees, on quieting my inner child’s cry rather than allowing her the space to find joy.
I’m getting there. One day I may fully understand the source of the problem, but even if I never do, a Professional is already on the scene. He’s doing his work, and I’m trying to slow down enough to lean in and watch Him in action. I might learn a few things.
Revelation 21: 5
“Look! I am making all things new!”