I found myself murmuring to my wife, “People are so stupid.”
We were returning from vacation in the Poconos. We had forgotten that we told ourselves we’d never again come back at the end of a holiday weekend. Ah, foolish, forgetful us. We were on Interstate 380. Two feeder lanes from this Interstate merged into one before spilling onto I-80. You know the scenario. Those in the left feeder lane zoomed by hoping to beat as many of us as they could. Few in the left tried merging right before the lane ended. Incredibly, one car from the right lane even swung back into the left thinking he could get a better place down the line! Of course, besides the log jam at the end of the left lane, those in the right were frustrated and angry that those in the left “cheated” like that, so more often than not, they refused to let them in. As Forrest Gump so wisely noted, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
Instead of merging way back in the line, cars in the left lane just kept barreling down. Fuming to my wife while being mindful of yet another “wonderful growth opportunity,” I decided to try to be a model. I left enough space for several cars to merge into the right lane in front of us. But the cars kept zooming on by. I rolled down my window, extended my arm out and up, and began waving my hand and arm vigorously if not angrily, pointing to the spaces in front of me. They still passed on by! I had a momentary fantasy of moving into the left lane, stopping my car, getting out, and walking up the line directing drivers to merge—like a General Patton directing his tanks! However inappropriately grandiose that may seem, it wouldn’t have been the only time I did something a bit socially “odd”.
Decades ago, shortly after my wife and I had our first child, we drove to the Sunday morning church service in two cars. She sang in the choir and had left long before me. On a tight budget as a young family, we had two aged cars; one was an old Chevy Caprice. Upon leaving, she had taken our little guy with her and I was just a minute behind her. Driving down Center Street, I noticed ahead that my wife had stalled in the middle of the intersection as she was turning left. Cars were honking their horns at her as they sped around her in frustration. I pulled over onto the shoulder, got out of my car, walked right down the middle of that busy street, and, without identifying myself as her husband, yelled out into the neighborhood that they were all willing to drive on by without helping this woman. I even shouted: how many of you are headed to church? I put my shoulder to the car’s trunk and began to push. Next thing I knew, there was another shoulder next to mine. After pushing the car through the intersection and off to the side, this man apologized to me, saying he was out running for his morning exercise but was one of the people who was not going to help—until he heard my admonition. I smiled, thanked him, and then shook hands.
I guess his shoulder and humility reinforced the notion that maybe I could do something similar for a second time in my life! But, instead—decades later of social conformity and fear of being shot—I just moved my arm back and forth even more vigorously, naively hoping my display of frustration would be persuasive. The driver behind me did take notice of my modeling. But, as if to counter my foolish generosity, she refused—absolutely refused—to let anyone in. She stayed right on my bumper to make sure no one dared to even consider trying to edge his or her way in. Perhaps she was trying to nudge me forward to close the gap as well.
My wife gently but a bit sarcastically told me to relax lest I get an ulcer. Occupying herself on her Smartphone, she then read this from my son’s Facebook page: “When you are dead, you don’t know that you are dead. It is difficult only for the others. It is the same when you are stupid.” I took this as a comedic moment of karmic synchronicity with my transitional spiritual state.
As this now single feeder lane merged with I-80, the same torturous game ensued. At that point, I resigned myself to my fate—and reaffirmed what I’ve known all along about the human condition. Using a cleaned up version of the words spoken by the irascible and somewhat eccentric leader of rational-emotive therapy (RET), Albert Ellis, whom I heard decades ago at a conference: people are just plain stupid. You don’t have to psychoanalyze them, looking for some hidden childhood dynamic to account for their behavior. No, this was like being thirsty. You’re thirsty because you’re thirsty; you need water. That’s all. Likewise, people are just plain stupid because they’re just plain stupid; they need smarts. That’s all.
While once again anchoring myself to this fact of life, I nevertheless regrouped to make even more of an effort to integrate my Christian perspective into my transitionally cynical spiritual state. So, as I put on more of the “armor of God,” I sarcastically shared a (profound!) insight with my wife about how all this delay came about just because people were being selfish. Not stupid. Selfish. And selfishly foolish. Every driver’s short-sighted self-interest cost themselves and the rest of us a huge delay. Made no sense. New Jersey knows this. I am told it is the law there to merge and keep it moving, with innumerable signs commanding cars to do so…or suffer a huge fine if caught. It’s primitive morality, but it works. Within a less primitive, more advance Biblical vision for living life, however, if every driver on I-380 and 80 had sought to “make love their aim,” then we all would have flowed onto I-80 almost seamlessly, albeit a bit more slowly than the speed limit.
More soberly—many of us actually tasted that love on our streets and highways right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Sadly, such love on our highways was short-lived. Well, we did have a relaxing vacation in the Poconos where, consistent with my July article for Book Fun Magazine, we met our central goal of Sabbath rest. It quickly became apparent, however, that it was a bit challenging to keep such Sabbath and my Christian priorities on the Interstates. But keeping priorities from day to day is always challenging. The Covey enterprise with its “principle-centered living” equips people to do just that. Covey wrote a very simple though useful illustration of how we can keep “first things first” in our lives: An expert places a wide-mouthed mason jar full of large stones in front of an audience of business students. He asks his astute audience if the jar is full. The audience says “Yes.” The expert then puts gravel into the jar. The audience catches on. Is the jar full, he asks? Probably not, they answer. The expert pours sand into the jar. Is the jar full now? No, they answer. The expert then pours water into the jar, filling it. Now, the expert asks, what is the point of this illustration? The answer comes back that, no matter how full your schedule, if you try hard, you can fit more in. The expert responds “No.” The point is, if you do not put the large stones in first, you’ll never fit them in. *
In the video series called The Coach’s Corner, I lay out several elements for a discipleship platform. It is a platform on which we can stand to build our character, put on the whole armor of God to fight sin and suffering, and from which we can create meaning. According to the apostles, it is through such a “purpose-driven life” that both joy and hope emerge. One pillar of that platform is to make love our aim. Doing so is a daily vision and a grand effort to hone the skills to love those entrusted to our care, even those short-sighted drivers on I-380 and 80. But isn’t that the same goal we shoot for on vacation? As I noted in that July article, the Old Testament Sabbath as a day of rest was a “shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Col. 2:17) Resurrection life, life built on love, is now our true Sabbath. So the fundamental game of life from our Father’s point of view does not change from day to day or week to week. Whatever else we do with our lives, whatever other large stones we throw into the mason jar of our day, loving those entrusted to our care is one of them. Jesus and the apostles do not make that stone optional.
So—as we re-enter our work after vacation; as we feel the compression intensifying; as we feel the stress of deadlines, backlogged emails, and retuning phone calls; as we struggle once again to keep our lives balanced, the core vision remains the same. If love is at the heart of Sabbath rest while we are on vacation, then love is still at the heart of Sabbath rest while we work. We do not leave Sabbath behind as we leave vacation behind. Sabbath rest in Jesus Christ is loving one another with the keen awareness that one Man came back to life—and through that one Man, the entire universe will one day rest. It will rest from life’s nonsense of evil, suffering, and death—and whatever cultural equivalents we have of the struggle for survival…of the challenges to make a living. The universe will be transformed into a healthy and wholesome playground for love. In the meantime, whether at work or at play, we love. That love is the true game of life. That love is our down payment on our final rest. And that love is our Sabbath. May it be so as we come back from vacation and gear into the months ahead of living life…living life “in Christ,” who is our Sabbath. ***http://www.appleseeds.org/big-rocks_covey.htm