One car length

“Has this ever happened to you?” I inquired of my pastor from the middle of the highway.

“Over four hundred funerals,” the text came back.  “Not once.”

I blame it on the merge.  If you’ve ever driven in New York City, you know that merges happen in the blink of an eye.  Four lanes suddenly become one as you come out of a toll booth or approach a tunnel.  Main avenues shrink from three lanes to two with no signage.  And on-ramps to highways?  To call them ramps is stretching it.  I’ve been on ramps in North Carolina that would have taken me past my elementary school, to the church and back home again, were they in the Bronx.  But in NYC, you have at best three car lengths to go from 20 mph to 60 and thread your way through the eye of ruthlessly oncoming traffic.

If you want to know why New Yorkers seem so aggressive, it’s the natural selection of surviving mergers.  They’ve seen good, kind people hesitate in tragically ill-timed gestures of courtesy or fear.  Either way, it’s not pretty.

The funeral procession negotiated the entrance to the Bronx River Parkway fairly well.  It was the move to the center lane that proved unfortunate.  They say you should leave one car length between vehicles for every 10 miles per hour you’re traveling.  That put us about 5 1/2 car lengths short when my brother looked in his mirror as he moved to the center lane and someone ahead of us put on brakes.  The only thing worse than the sound of “boom” in a funeral procession, is the sound of “Boom, boom, boom…”  Fortunately, it was just one “Boom,” …and the distinct cackling of my sister’s laughter coming from the casket three cars ahead.

I stood in the middle of the highway, notes in hand for the service, wondering if I, the preacher, was going to have to bum a ride.

After determining that my nephew’s truck was fine, (yes, we ran into the son of the deceased), and that his own car would still move, my brother drove us to the cemetery, teaching my nine-year old a few expressions indigenous to the Bronx, though not exclusively heard there.  The procession of mourners walking from their cars to the gravesite lost a bit of its dignity as each person stopped briefly on the way to pay their respects to the crumpled nose of my brother’s Camry.

Creating margins.  One car length for every ten miles per hour you are traveling.  It’s a good rule.

I know what you’re thinking.  “Somebody’s going to cut in front of me if I leave a gap that big.”  So what?  What will you miss out on, really?  Getting to the cemetery first?

How fast is your life moving right now?  How much space are you intentionally leaving?

…Enough space for God to move and tie some of the frayed loose ends of your life together?

…Enough space to hear God speak a word of direction; to let you know when it’s safe to change lanes?

…Enough space to reshape the words that come all too recklessly from you, leaving a trail of relational fender benders?

…Enough space to breathe as you drive and actually marvel at the scenery along the way?

We think pace is all about us; how much we can handle; how much we have to do and how little time we have to get it done.

Pace is a choice between driving really fast and actually heading somewhere meaningful.

Pace is about God.  It’s about finding a rhythm to our life that puts us in sync with God and God’s unique purpose for us and for the days given to us.

Pace is about creating margins, and margins require two things:  1) Making space in our lives, and 2) Inviting God into it.  One without the other is an on-ramp to nowhere.

What would one car length look like for you?

The Five Minute Sabbatical

If you need a spiritual practice for creating margins, try a five minute sabbatical each day; maybe a couple of times each day if you live your life like a taxi driver at rush hour.  Take five minutes wherever you are – at work, at home – to center yourself on God; to rest in his presence.  Light a candle if you need help to focus.  Allow God to become the center of your thoughts, of your world, in those moments.  Put him at the heart of your very ordinary day.

Reflect on what you’ve been doing that morning from God’s perspective.  Is it affirming?  In need of course corrections?

Put the rest of your day before him and listen; listen for plans and opportunities that God might have for you in the midst of those obligations that otherwise seemed mundane or intimidating or frivolous.

Remember.  Remember who you are.  When we have no margins, we lose sight of ourselves.  We become too big or too small, believing we are the hats we wear or the titles we hold.  It is in the margins that God writes, “You are mine.”

How fast are you traveling?  Where are you headed?  How will you leave one car length in your life for God today?

Jayne Davis

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About the Author
Jayne Davis is Minister of Spiritual Formation at First Baptist Church, Wilmington, N.C. She is part of the Hopeful Imagination ministry team, encouraging churches and church leaders in a changing world. Jayne is co-author of the book Hopeful Imagination and posts on Facebook at Spiritual Formation - Along the Way and is trying to learn to Tweet, though, being from the Bronx, is paranoid about people following her.

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  • Jeff Brumley

    I just tried that five-minute sabbatical thing. It chilled me right out. Thanks Jayne.