“Life is a series of head-on collisions.” This was the opening line in a sermon of a well-known TV preacher. Well that is an attention getter and many would say very negative. I would say, that’s true. So we truly need the helmut of salvation for protection.
I have found in my ministry to hospital patients, families and staff that every one is in a trial or has just come out of it. And if that doesn’t fit, you are about to go into one. No head-on collision does sound a little strong, or does it. Today happens to also be the one-year anniversary of a head-on collision that my wife and I survived. I have written on it before, telling the story of a crash on a vacation trip to the American Virgin Islands. There, as you might know the driving is on the left side, but the cars steering wheels are on the left like on the mainland. The roads are paved for the most part but very windy along the ocean or in the subtropical jungle. There are no shoulders and the jungle comes to the edge of the road. Scattered along the roads are chickens and donkeys and walkers from neighboring shacks. Along the seaside roadways are coral boulders. It is beautiful don’t get me wrong. But you need to share the road with trucks and buses. You might not know that the islands are mountainous and therefore the roads are also undulating through the woods and slopes, often with roller coaster like ups and downs.
It was on such a hill on a curve that we needed to find a place to turn around after missing the Red Hook Care Ferry terminal. That was a feat, but up the hill around a car and a donkey as I was trying to get back to the left lane at the top of the hill. There we met a car just cresting the hill from the other side. Even at only 25 MPH, the explosion of breaking glass and screeching metal is deafening. The shock-arresting crash blurred every thought. The airbags blew and the seatbelts snapped. Blinded and shaken I could only smell the acrid odor of burnt rubber and hot anti-freeze. Steam and smoke rose to cause my initial thought of blindness. As it rose, I could see the car right in front of me. The license “Ps 27.” As asked my wife if she was all right and she said yes. I was able to get out and view the other car. The driver was staring at me. As I walked up to her down window I asked if she was OK and she said, “I think so.” I told her the first verse of the Psalm 27 on her plate, The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear; The Lord is the stronghold of my life of whom shall I be afraid.” An ambulance and police arrived quickly I thought. We were shaken, but the other woman needed to be taken from her car by ambulance to the hospital only two turns back down the road.
We needed to wait and make statements. Then after riding in the tow truck back down to ferry we got another rental jeep. The ferry made the twenty-minute trip to St. John where we had rented a house high up on the mountain. The sea spray and azure waters gave us a little calm after the storm. We found the house just right with a view out over the sailboat dotted Coral Bay for many miles across the multi-island chain. The green jungle rose high around us, ensconcing us in its dense life-filled greens against the blues of the Caribbean. We sat on the deck, watching the tropical horizon like we imagined the first explorers had.
Our bodies were bruised and Pam looked like a crossing guard with multi-colored shoulder straps. We decided to head to a beach to find solace and peace.
Fortunately on our first try we found a gorgeous private bay down a jungle coral and sand covered trail. The waters were sparkling in the sun with translucent shades of azure blue lapping against the white sands. There were only a couple of beachcombers and a couple of yachts anchored out a few hundred yards. We had found a silent and almost secret paradise pond bay. There we soaked and swam with snorkel and mask, mesmerized by the tropical fish and terns wheeling above. A green turtle appeared and gave me a smooth swimming distraction to follow into the sea grass. Time stopped spinning and the Lord said to me, “Peace, be still.” We healed for several days in our private lagoon and on fresh caught fish from our sea.
Why such a long narrative? Soon we were back to the States and received all the insurance inquiries followed by another collision, a lawsuit from this supposed Christian. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, Paul reprimands church members who have filed lawsuits against each other. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18 to work out differences. But we live in a litigious society.
Back at my hospital job as a chaplain, I am called to encourage people through crisis. My conversations tells that most people are experiencing trials or collisions on a regular basis. As I quote from the 23rd Psalm on walking through the valley of the shadow of death it seems that this is the norm not the exception. Oh yes David tells us that even though we are in the valley, we are walking and getting through and that God is protecting us with His rod and staff. So we are not to fear for God is in it with us. In fact Immanuel, God with us, is always with us, He will never leave or forsake us. Most people don’t have a very good theology of suffering or collisions. Scripture gives us a myriad of guidance for getting through the valleys. God said we need a “Valley Guide.” That guide is God and His word and other godly people.
I find the psalms a wonderful place to go in trial. They represent all of our emotions as my book, Great is God’s Faithfulness, tells us. Jesus said, “In the world
you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). As we age, I think we learn the tribulations are the norm and the way of life. Jesus, however, is the way, the truth and the life. He will show us the way to walk as Isaiah 30:21 tells us. It requires being filled with the Holy Spirit and walking in the Spirit with the fruit of the Spirit within us.
Collisions, maybe you don’t like the metaphor, but pick one for it is the way of life on earth. For me, a car wreck was for real, but so also are the constant collisions with co-workers and even relatives. I know that Scripture admonishes us, “If it is at all possible, as much as it depends upon you, be at peace with all people” (Romans 12:18). This will be a life-long learning for me. In the current genre of colloquial speech, I am to “Let it go” or “Shake it off” when confronted by difficult people. As peacemakers we are not to avoid conflict but to hit it head-on with gentleness and respect. I am in a season of collisions with difficult people and God is training me to trust Him in it. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).