I have a theory. You know how they say that character is who you are when no one’s looking? So if you want to know who a person really, truly is, at their core, there’s no better place to look than, say, a hidden camera. (Except I’m not condoning that. Don’t get arrested, and don’t get me arrested.)
But I thought of an even better test. I think that character is who you are behind the wheel.
A couple of years ago, I found Christ and experienced a gradual change in my heart – in my attitude and my behavior and my overall mood. In everyday conversation, I was less likely to snap in anger. I spent more time in the Bible and less time stressing over my day. I wasn’t perfect, of course, nor am I now – but I had peace, a real, genuine peace, which came from within and wasn’t dependent on anything else.
Well, I was driving home from Portland with my mom around that time, and the speed limit was 55 on the stretch of highway we were on. There was a car in front of me, but I was happy with the speed we were going. When a second lane opened up, I didn’t feel the need to pass him, so I stayed put. We turned a corner and there was a state trooper parked along the road, sticking a radar gun in his windshield.
My mom said, “Nice call, keeping it at 60. I’d have been speeding to pass that guy.”
The comment stood out to me, because I knew that just a year before that, I would have been gunning it. In fact, I’d probably have been tailgating him until that passing lane opened up. And I knew, just from knowing my own heart, that the change in my attitude toward driving was a direct result of the change in my attitude toward God.
Well, alright. That’s enough of you guys getting the wrong impression of me. Cause it was just a couple of weeks ago that I was driving and I got cut off. My reaction: “That’s real nice, jerk.” To which my son added, “Yeah!” And boy, his tone was just identical to his mama’s.
In the car, there’s no accountability. There’s no one to glare at you if you spout off some mean retort. There’s no one to fling your anger back in your face. There’s no one to apologize to when you realize you’re wrong.
Do we use that anonymity to get away with behavior we wouldn’t even consider in polite company – or any company, for that matter? Well, that’s kind of a dumb question. Of course we do. I do. You do. Duh.
I don’t just mean road rage, either. How many people have you passed just because you need to be first in line? (Don’t worry – I won’t make you say it out loud.) Do you sigh at red lights? Do you speed?
It’s not that there’s this huge consequence to our behavior behind the wheel. No one hears us yelling, right? But our attitude when driving tells us something critical: what’s the state of our hearts? What character do we display when no one’s around and the pressure’s on? It may not cause a wreck if you flip a bird – and the other driver will probably forget you by dinner – but it tells you something. It reflects on your heart.
Maybe we could take a step in the right direction, by using our driving attitude as a litmus test for our spiritual maturity. (In fact, we could probably use lots of different aspects of our lives to test our faith. Like, what percent of dirty diapers do I face with a smile?) Honestly – if I read my Bible more consistently, I’d probably yell a lot less behind the wheel.