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Sunday Stick Shift Lessons

For the past few months, my husband Daniel has been teaching me how to drive a stick shift. We purchased a car last fall, and because cars in Europe are mostly manual transmissions, our price range included only stick shifts. Daniel learned how to drive on a manual car and really enjoys doing it, but I never learned and am the prototypical American who prefers the automatic. Needless to say, the time has come for me to learn this new skill.

We started out, of course, in parking lots. Finding a large, empty parking lot is quite a challenge in a densely-populated urban environment like Brussels. Our practice time was limited to Sunday afternoons because most stores are closed on Sundays, providing me with some much-needed space. I was amused to realize that many other learners also used the empty parking lots on Sundays. We would leave one another plenty of space as we wove through the parking aisles and would smile understandingly if our paths happened to cross closely.

Misery loves company.

Then, after Christmas, I started venturing out of the parking lots onto actual streets. Still on Sundays, mind you, because the horrendous Brussels traffic is significantly less on Sunday. Daniel would drive us to the parking lot, I’d warm up a bit, and then I’d head out into the world. I’ve gradually moved now into getting into the driver’s seat at our house, skipping the parking lots and getting good practice around the narrower neighborhood streets. Still on Sundays.

I enjoy it not. one. bit.

I’m know I’ll reach “fluency” in this skill and won’t have to think about it anymore, but right now I find it stressful. Driving here is different from driving in the States; I’m essentially learning not only how to drive a manual car but also how to drive in Belgium, in an urban environment.

A patient teacher
Daniel has been a wonderful teacher. Ever patient and calm, he has instructed me throughout the whole process. He lets me mess up and then helps me understand what happened. He doesn’t get rattled when the car stalls and people honk. And when I get frustrated to the point of tears, he encourages me and waits until I’m ready to go again. He sits in the passenger seat as we drive around the city and calmly points out errors or potential mistakes.

“Okay there’s a pedestrian about to cross the street up ahead.”

“You need to shift to third.”

“This road goes down to one lane up here.”

“Your light is about to change so prepare to get going.”

“Ease off the clutch a bit more slowly.”

My point, however, isn’t to recount my driving saga (even though I’ve basically done that) or to praise Daniel for being a wonderful teacher (though I’ve done that too, and he deserves it). As I reflected recently on how I still rely on having Daniel in the car with me, instructing me as I go, I realized that we often want the same kind of audible guidance in our lives outside of the car. We’d love to see answers to life’s uncertainties written in the sky or hear them spoken to us as we move through our days and make our choices.

“You should take this job, not that one.”

“The best school for your child is School X.”

“It’s the right time for your family to move into a different house.”

“Get to know that particular neighbor because he/she needs a friend.”

An ever-present guide
As Christians we have God’s Word to guide us, but we’re sometimes guilty of wanting more, of thinking that the Scriptures aren’t really relevant to our situations or sufficient for our needs. We forget that the Bible is living and active and that in it we find all that we need for life and godliness. While the Bible won’t tell us which job to take or which house to buy, it gives us guidelines on how to use our time and money in ways that glorify God and bring encouragement to us and blessing to those around us. Although we don’t find a specific parenting guide in the pages of Scripture, we do find principles about the nature of our hearts and about the need to train up our children in obedience and in the fear of the Lord.

Within the principles laid out in Scripture, we have great freedom to make choices that work for us, our families, our current life situations, etc. I believe that God is often more interested in how we make our decisions than in the actual decisions themselves. Are we prayerful about them? Are we basing them in biblical principles and seeking wise counsel from those who know us best? Are we stepping out in faith, even if we’re afraid, and trusting that God will act because He promises to go before us?

I still need to log some hours with Daniel in the car with me before I’m ready to strike out on my own. Having him next to me offering patient guidance gives me confidence in my ability to drive the car. But one day I’ll get into the car alone, armed with the practice I’ve done and the instruction he’s given me, having faith in my ability to drive the car. I will be nervous and maybe a bit afraid, but over time, those nerves and fears will lessen.

How wonderful that, as Christians, we’re never really alone. As we journey through this life, pilgrims headed towards our eternal home, God goes before us and with us. Sometimes He makes our way straight, wide, and easy. Other times the road ahead appears curvy, narrow, full of challenges. He doesn’t promise to make the journey easy, but He does promise to be with us. He doesn’t promise that we won’t be afraid, but He does promise to go before us as we step out, even in fear.

Katy B. serves with MTW in Brussels, Belgium.

*Last name withheld.

Katy B*, Brussels Netherlands Belgium Netherlands Reflection Mar 26, 2019
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