I remember my first day of driving school. It was a Wednesday, and it had been pouring rain all day long. As I walked through the rain from the school building to the parking lot where my private driving instructor–a retired highway patrol officer–waited for me in the little white car with “Student Driver” displayed in large block letters across the rear fender, I was filled with anxiety and dread. Why did it have to be raining so hard on my first day? Surely, I was being set up for failure.
But my driving instructor was calm and cheerful, shockingly confident in my fledgling driving skills. Learning to drive in the rain was the best way, he assured me. If I could drive in the rain on my first day, then I could drive in any conditions. I had no choice but to trust his judgment, and I was strangely buoyed by his trust in my untried capability. I carefully followed his instructions as we made our way out of the parking lot and through the neighborhood to the main road.
The Long Curve
Before I knew it, I was driving in a part of town I had never been to before. The straight road I had been following as we practiced changing lanes slowly began to curve–and curve and curve some more! I had never driven on a road that was not straight before, and certainly not a wet, unfamiliar, not-straight road. I panicked and began to turn the wheel too far into the curve. I still remember his large, wrinkled hand reaching out to steady the wheel, gently guiding the car back into our lane. He kept his hand on the wheel as he calmly explained that driving on a long curve was not like turning a corner. The wheel would need to be constantly and gently corrected to keep the car following along with the curve without veering too far into the inner wall or too far out into the oncoming traffic lanes. We kept driving that way–three hands on the wheel–all the way through the curve so I could feel the incremental shifts he made to the left and to the right as we guided the car together.
The Tension of the Curve
I’ve shared before about the beauty of walking the labyrinth:
As I walk the labyrinth, I gradually realize again and again that the invitation of the labyrinth is to embrace the nonlinear journey: full of twists and turns and doubling back, circling right back to the starting point–but not quite. Although I feel like I’m back in the same place again, I’m actually still moving forward along the same path, the only path, the only way to the center–where the presence of God is waiting to reveal just a little more of the true self.
Similarly, I think walking our spiritual path can sometimes feel like driving a car on a curving road. In order to keep moving forward along the curve, we have to do a lot more work, constantly–yet gently–correcting the wheel as we go. Jerking the wheel or turning too far one way or the other can veer the car too far and cause a crash. Balancing and holding in tension are needed to keep the car moving safely and continuing to follow the path laid out ahead.
The Letting Go
There is also an invitation to let go of the desire for the path we are on to be straight. We can’t control whether the path laid out for us is straight or curved. We are not promised an easy life devoid of difficulty and suffering. The path we are invited to take is in fact narrow and hidden, often overlooked even by those who are searching for it–perhaps simply because the path does not turn out to be what they expected.
The obscurity of the path is in itself an invitation to seek out companionship as we journey. Driving on a curving road requires confidence and a gentle but firm hand on the wheel. Sometimes we may welcome a third hand stretching out to help us get a feel for what that balance is like. And sometimes, that third hand may be ours, stretching out to another wheel to lend our confidence and trust in a fellow pilgrim’s capacity to learn to hold in tension what is necessary to keep following the curve all the way through.
As we continue our journey in this season of Advent, consider the curves in the path laid out for you. What are you being invited to hold in tension as you gently correct your wheel? How are you being invited to support and trust your fellow pilgrims as you grow into your capacity with confidence together?