Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, May 4, 2015


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

Our grandson has a driver’s license. He also has our second car, an Inferno Red PT Cruiser. He wants to paint flames on its sides. That’s scary, really scary.

Bill Schutz, the psychologist, said that when he was ten he got a bicycle. His grandmother told him so many stories about bad things that could happen on a bicycle, and gave him so many warnings, that it was a month before he realized that having a bicycle was a good thing.

Having a driver’s license is a good thing. So is a PT Cruiser. So are flames on the side. But it’s all really, really scary.

Joe is a good, careful, responsible driver. I was a good, careful, responsible driver when I was sixteen, too. It’s little short of a miracle, however, that I am alive.

When I was sixteen, I took chances driving that I did not even know were chances, because I was inexperienced. In driving, there is no substitute for experience. When my nephew, Tony, was sixteen, he took a chance while driving that killed him and his brother, Steve, and two of their friends. Learning through experience can make you a better driver, or it can kill you.

It can also kill other people.

A decade or two ago, I was pastoring in a small, thriving, industrial town. One Sunday afternoon I got a frantic call from a mother. Her son, sixteen, had just backed out of their driveway and killed the little girl who lived across the street.

The mother was a member of our church, as was her husband and the boy, but I barely knew them. I had not been in that town very long, and this family did not come to church.

I was one of the first people called, so when I got there, the scene was still chaotic. The family of the little girl was gathered in their yard with their friends, crying and pointing at the house across the street, which was ominously shut up. A car was parked haphazardly in the driveway of that house. People were talking loudly enough for me to hear the complaints that the boy across the street always backed out too fast, without looking, that after he had hit the girl he didn’t even bother to see about her, just parked his car and went back into his house. That was the house I had to go to. The mother opened the door just far enough for me to squeeze through.

The boy--a child of privilege, the only child of older parents now close to sixty if not beyond, his father a doctor--was sitting on a couch, sullen, antagonistic. The father was in an easy chair, a glazed look on his face, mentally not even there. The mother was fluttering around, saying things like, “I’ve told him and told him.” The boy was muttering things like, “She shouldn’t have been playing in the street. It was her fault.” It was going to take a lot of work to get anyone in that house to deal with reality in a helpful way. So the mother said to me, “You’ve got to pray.”

Well, yes, I had already been praying, all the way to their house, all the way up that driveway. And I prayed again, right then, as she asked me to, as the father remained far away, and the son remained sullen, and as the mother rocked from foot to foot wringing her hands.

I was experienced at that sort of prayer request. I had been asked for that kind of prayer before, a too-soon prayer, a substitute prayer, substituting for action when action, a miracle prayer, turning back time so that the awful thing never happened, so that reality could be ignored.

I was not, however, experienced enough. Later in my career, when that sort of occasion arose, when people asked for a too-soon prayer, a substitute prayer, a miracle prayer, I said, “No. The time for prayer will come, but right now prayer won’t lead us closer to God, but take us farther away. Right now let’s do what needs to be done right now.”

I would like to say that I pastored the family across the street after the too-soon prayer, that I helped the mother and the father and the boy face up to reality and do timely praying instead of too-soon praying, prayers for forgiveness, and for the little girl and her family, and for strength to do better. But they would no longer open the door to me. I had failed. My prayer did not make the little girl come back to life, or make her family forgive and not sue, or make the boy accept his responsibility, or make the father rejoin the family. I had prayed too soon. I had failed.

But right now Joe is getting ready to drive to school. And right now is a good time to pray for him, and all the other drivers, and all the other playing children, praying that we might all look out for one another, that our actions will be careful enough that we won’t need to pray later, except to give thanks.

Pray first. Pray last. In between, we need to look out for one another.

John Robert McFarland

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I tweet as yooper1721.

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