Everybody needs to be broken in some way or another. It comes in various ways—some harsher than others. Some are mercifully simple—you lose a job or a friend. Some are brutal and vicious—a bad divorce or a decade of alcoholism. None of these things are easy; if they were merely trivial, it wouldn’t be called “broken.” We rarely remember the light tap on the shoulder; we always remember the feel of pavement after getting knocked down in a parking lot.
Sometimes, the asphalt can be our kindest mentor, for it saves us from the cliff.
I’ve never been one to take things on faith; I need to know for myself. I am the product of our scientific and cynical era—an era that has stepped past doubting faith and now doubts everything. Our fathers warn us, “Don’t drive that road, the bridge has been broken for years and the river is deep.” And we nod and smile and don’t listen to a word of it. Inevitably, we end up struggling frantically out of car windows as water pours in around us. The bridge is out. Now we know.
The danger in this is that there may come an accident and we won’t be able to get out of the car. We will sink to the bottom of the river, and we will never come up, and the only thing that will be left is the faint sound of bubbles breaking the surface. Then, that too will disappear, and the river will run along as always, disrupted only by the sound of screeching tires and splashes as more cars plunge in after us.
In my relatively short time on earth, I’ve gone through enough cars that I should know to listen to advice and heed the road signs. Perhaps it’s a function of maturity; after all, the older people get the slower they tend to drive. Some still hurtle down the highway and through back roads and over washed-out bridges, but many learn to slow down, to listen, to not trust themselves so much. I still drive faster than I should. I’m sure I’m still heading down some roads that will end in rivers.
I will either learn, or I will drown. There isn’t a middle ground. Time is a wonderful equalizer. Karma may be a cheap illusion, but common grace sure looks a lot like it. People who drive fast get in more accidents. People who don’t listen have to figure things out for themselves—sometimes in mid-air, with the sky above and the water below and gravity pulling the whole thing down frighteningly quick. Sometimes getting carjacked is a blessing. Sometimes being conscious enough to crawl out of a broken window is a blessing too.
And when we sit on the bank of the river and watch what is left of our car sink away, when we lay on our backs in a parking lot and the world is ringing and the lights above are spinning and crossing like a kaleidoscope—here is where we are blessed with the opportunity of choice, the chance of redemption. A wise man will fail for a moment; a foolish man will fail for a lifetime. Maybe the wise man fails again and again, but each time he redirects his course—he drives one road and asks for directions, he drives slow enough to stop before going over the cliff. A foolish man just drives—carpe diem.
When Jacob was wrestling with God, and his hip was dislocated, he realized he was overmatched and dealing with someone he could not best. He stopped fighting and held on for a blessing. Yet how often do we continue to wrestle, doing our best to ignore the pain in our hip?
Hopefully, we will break before this happen. If we are lucky or have a speck of wisdom, like Balaam’s ass, our bodies and minds will surrender and lay down before we meet the Angel of the Lord in the middle of the road. We will be remained of asphalt tattoos and broken bones, and we won’t careen down roads with no good end.
Even if we get on the right path, it’s still winding and narrow; we still need to ask for directions and read road signs. But there are guard rails, and there are others—creeping along, doing their best not to look down as they traverse this winding mountain road. They keep their eyes up, the light from a far-off city playing on bruised faces and scarred hands. As they roll the window down at rest stops, they all consult the same cracked, weathered guide book and the same wise, old men, and ask with saving humility, “Is this right? Is this the way I should be going?”