(Reader note: This post contains car accident content.)
Many years ago I was in a pretty significant car accident. It was my first year of marriage and we were living in a busy suburban area. As I headed down a long street I glanced at the light ahead, noted that it was green, and motored on. Unfortunately, I failed to realize that green light was illuminated over a long line of cars that had come to a standstill.
I’m sure the sound of the crash was terrible but I don’t remember it. I blacked out briefly when the cars collided and awoke to the acrid smell of the airbag, my shirt covered in the white powder that keeps those little pillows pliable while they sit in your steering wheel. I was disoriented and confused, trying to make sense of my altered reality. As I made my way to the shoulder I saw fully the damage I had done. My moving car had smashed the stationary one in front of it and it was my fault. Entirely my fault. I realized with deep sadness that the blame rested with me and me alone.
As I stood there listening to the approaching emergency vehicles a man appeared and put his arm around my shoulders. I’m sure I sounded like a total loon as I sputtered out sentences about being sorry, not knowing how it had happened, wondering if everyone was okay, needing to call my husband and likely a few other incoherent things. He gave my shoulders a squeeze and said, “It’s going to be alright dear. That’s why they are called ‘accidents.’” It was only then that I realized he was the driver of the other car.
Even in my stupor, I remember being touched by his response. He had been wronged. Entirely. He had every right to demand justice and offer me a heaping helping of verbal reminders of everything that I had done wrong and yet he didn’t. He chose grace. It was the strangest feeling, standing there completely guilty, while someone extended real-life unmerited grace.
Since that time I think maybe if I were ever in a similar situation I would hopefully be able to think back to that man and his kindness and offer that kind of dignity to someone else. Sometimes in big moments, we have a way of showing up in big ways. Truly, it’s more often the every day that tends to get us in trouble…
When the waitress gets an order wrong.
When the cable guy comes at 5:05 of the 8:00-5:00 window.
When the hairdresser cuts too short.
When the other driver waves with one finger.
When the store has too few checkout lanes open.
When the customer yells.
When the teenagers talk in the movie.
When the spouse leaves a mess.
When we are inconvenienced.
When we are wronged.
When we want justice.
When we choose to become jerks instead of Jesus. It’s so easy to do.
And so that’s all this is today. No grand finale. Just a simple reminder. A reminder to me, and maybe to you, that we have to consciously work toward being people of uncommon response. The extension of grace when we have been wronged is uncommon. It is the uncommon response of an uncommon God and it just might be the moment where the Gospel turns into a real life experience for the recipient. I promise we will all have a chance to practice today. May God help us recognize the moment.