Authored by Joseph McNally (a guest contribution)
As the sun was setting, I walked briskly toward the bus station after a tiring day at work. I knew from experience that the city bus didn’t come by that often, and I didn’t want to miss it.
A teenager sporting Oakley sunglasses, a plush black suit, and a haircut with designed grooves shaved into the sides above his ears stood in front of the 7-11. His stance could have passed for someone applying for a position of bodyguard for the president. The soundtrack to Men in Black 3 was very possibly blaring in his earphones.
I chuckled at this sight, but also sheepishly remembered an incident that occurred to me as a young teen while hanging out at a local 7-11 in my neighborhood.
My buddy and I were sipping our drinks when a friend of ours sped by us on his 120cc bike, only to suddenly stop and swerve in our direction. I was in awe of how cool he was. His walk, his talk, even his clothes and gelled hair set our group’s fashion trends.
“Wanna take it for a spin?” he asked me, his tone making me finally feel like “one of the guys.” As he turned his motorcycle toward me, I remembered thinking that it didn’t matter that I had no experience with riding one. I could only think about how awesome it would feel to race off into the sunset, with movie credits rolling down the screen to a beat-heavy song, with incredible guitar riffs. On my return, my friends would say, “Nice spin, man,” as the wheels stopped only inches away from impact.
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way. I strongly revved up the motorcycle, but before I knew it, the power from my revving had driven me and the bike across to the other side of the street. As I watched oil spurt out of my engine onto the trunk of the parked car I had just collided with, I felt like a freshly pricked balloon—completely deflated.
My friend, now running toward me, just looked at me with a mixed look of stunned horror and surprised humor.
The first thing I did after the incident was drag myself to my room and collapse in bed, fully clothed. Have you ever felt a sick feeling deep in your stomach, and all you wanted to do is run away from the world and sleep? I remember sleeping this accident off for a whole day. Nothing could make me feel better. The ensuing smirks and comments from my friends sure didn’t help!
A decade after this overconfident motorcycle humiliation, I met with another unfortunate incident. I was feeling fairly secure in my driving skills after having acquired a license only a few years before … until one dreadful morning.
Boy, those kids sure are loud, I thought to myself, as I sharply turned our missionary center’s VW van along a mountain road. I noticed the laughing from the back of the car was getting louder. I was becoming irritated. I really should say something, I thought to myself, when I heard one of the children shout, “I’m going to throw something out the window!”
I instinctively turned my head backwards for a split second, and as I looked back at the road, I heard the sharp sound of crunching metal and plastic. My slamming on the brakes merely softened the impact I had on the approaching Nissan mini auto. I hadn’t noticed the sharp curve in the mountain road, or the now-totaled vehicle in the oncoming lane.
It’s a strange thing about car accidents. No eerie warning music starts to play. There’s no flashing lights or dark smoke. All you hear is “Bang!”
After checking on the four children, who were shook up, yet okay, I was suddenly hit by the clear knowledge that it was my fault.
Walking into the police station, I had a flashback of the previous Christmas. Our purpose for that visit hardly mirrored my present one. Thanking the officers with singing and gifts for their services to our community sure felt better than this!
Within a few minutes, I sat face to face with a young policewoman. To my dismay, she reopened the freshly scabbing car accident scenario to me scene by scene, asking for my verbal confession after each sentence. The driver whose car I hit sat next to me the whole time, nodding in agreement.
Scarcely moments later, another policewoman asked if she could take my picture on the spot to confirm that the driver was actually me; before I had time to straighten my shirt and wipe off my despondent look, Click!
Not exactly a Kodak moment!
I knew that I had personally paid for the van’s full insurance coverage, so the life jacket of knowing that things would be covered financially was keeping me from drowning right in the police station. But when we got the insurance broker on the phone, he kept insisting that I had only paid into last year’s deal, and that this year my vehicle’s rate had been set back to minimum levels. This meant that the amount of back expenses that were due—as well as the small detail that we were in the middle of moving houses—caused this new $600 bill to pull my spirit down to a very low ebb.
As I lay in my bed that night, the all-too-familiar sickening feeling settled deep in my stomach. I hid from the world under my covers. I just wanted to sleep. I didn’t even want to think. Something, though, about this car accident was succinctly different from the crash of my teens. This time I had the comfort and blessing of a dear wife, and a close relationship with a Friend who has never left me alone.
“Do you want me to pray for you?” My wife sat beside me and gently whispered.
I nodded in agreement as I closed my eyes.
After she prayed, we stopped for a few moments to listen. My Friend, as usual, never failed.
“My dear Joe, learning never ends,” Jesus began. “Your whole life, you will learn many things in a variety of ways. You might find yourself despondent when faced with accidents, failures, or mistakes, but it’s up to you to choose to learn from them.”
I sighed. “I guess I can learn from just about anything.” I wondered to myself why it had to be such an intense and problem-filled lesson.
Jesus continued, “Most likely, you won’t find yourself this sad again for this same reason; in fact, it’s a very good thing that this happened the way that it did!”
“Good thing? Hmm?” I raised my left eyebrow.
“Yes,” Jesus replied, “This accident could have been worse, but it wasn’t. Be thankful that no one was hurt, or that you didn’t hit a more expensive car. Every day, people die in car accidents. My angels protected you.”
“That’s true,” I agreed in a calmer tone.
“Maybe it’s your inner self that hurts the most right now. All you can think of is how bad a driver you are, and in discouragement you just want to quit driving altogether.”
Yeah… I guess I do feel that way, I thought, my head hanging low. Like a Chinese lantern left outside during a summer typhoon, all of my past accomplishments had suddenly fallen apart in the face of failure and defeat.
Jesus didn’t stop there: “I’ve already forgiven you, Joe. Everyone’s forgiven you. Now you need to forgive yourself. Let go and learn from your accident. Next time, you’ll be more careful, I know that. Be happy, because this world has enough sadness, and your friends and family need to see you happy. Just trust Me. I’ll supply for you.”
Relief and comfort flooded my downcast heart. My stomach began to feel much better as well.
A few days later, I got a phone call from an old friend. She asked if I could help her to find 10 acting models from different countries. I got in touch with a few different friends, and since I was an acting agent, I worked out a commission with those who were hired. In the end, that one job paid nearly the full cost of the crash!
I was reminded of King David of old, who must have felt pretty low after some serious collisions in his personal and public life. His scandalous “wife nabbing” must have been humiliating.1 Guilt and discouragement probably also plagued him over the lack of control that he had over his much adored, yet unruly, sons—Absalom and Adonijah.2 I can’t imagine the criticism and blame that he must have received over the deaths of thousands of Israelites due to his personal pride in counting his army.3
And yet it was these very same failures—not the giant slaying or the Philistine slaughtering—that taught David the humbling, yet liberating truth: what a mess we all are without God.
He once gratefully confessed, “The LORD is near to those whose hearts are humble. He saves those whose spirits are crushed.”4
It’s like a quote I once memorized that has encouraged me after a few of my fumbles, as well as kept my feet on the ground after hitting those ever-so-rare, game-winning three-pointers! “Confessing to ourselves continually what a mess we are helps us to avoid that spirit of pride which causes us to criticize and condemn others.”5
Have you made an irreversible goof-up that you think no one will ever forgive you for, much less forget? Or perhaps you lost control of your actions, leaving the chassis of your confidence in shambles?
There is light at the end of every tunnel! But if the blessed ray of light is accompanied by the conductor’s whistle and the whine of an approaching bullet train, do get off the tracks!
Okay, maybe that wasn’t so comforting.
But what will comfort you is the ability to simply be happy with yourself, even if you don’t get it just right each and every time.
That’s right, be happy!
The people who are most fun to be around are often folks who spend most of their time thinking about others rather than focusing on their own mistakes and inadequacies.
After walking around naked for three years, Isaiah knew a thing or two about humility! He once said: “Humble people will once again find the happiness which the LORD gives.”6
So whether you’re dressed in Oakleys and Armani, or your fashion mirrors Isaiah and the residents of Cap d’Agde’s “Village Naturiste” in France, remember this:
Jesus made you the just the way you are, mistakes and all, and He loves you just the same!
He once encouraged the apostle Paul by telling him, “My grace is all you need. Only when you are weak can everything be done completely by my power.”7
So if you find yourself flirting with failure, or typhoons threatening to leave your lantern in shambles, don’t be dismayed! There is a Friend who will never leave you, who’ll bring you from the sirens of discouragement and despair to the haven of His comfort, acceptance, and forgiveness.
Believe me, it beats those Oakleys and Armanis any day.
1 2 Samuel 11
2 2 Samuel 15; 1 Kings 1
3 2 Samuel 24
4 Psalm 34:18 GW
5 Originally published January 1975
6 Isaiah 29:19 GNB
7 2 Corinthians 12:9 ERV
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International