The Fool in the Car

Ecclesiastes 7:9

What is it about an automobile that makes ordinary, reasonable people into morons? I could be walking down the street, holding doors for people and smiling, but put me behind the wheel of my car and, even though I’m not in any real hurry to get anywhere, I find irritation all around me.

Just yesterday, I was in a parking lot. Having identified a beautiful parking spot–it was in the shade in the heat of the afternoon–I prepared myself to wheel into it. But then this person was backing out of a nearby spot. She moved so slowly, her wheels barely turned so she had to back far out into the lane to make an exit. It turned out, though, that she wasn’t exiting. She was moving over from one perfectly good spot into another perfectly good spot. Finally, as I sat there grumbling, she eased to a stop, allowing me to grab my space quickly.

I should have had this verse in my mouth:

Don’t let your spirit rush to be angry,
for anger abides in the heart of fools.

Ecclesiastes 7:9

A Time for Every Irritation

Back in Ecclesiastes 3, we read about the “time for every season under heaven.” You might remember “a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together. I’d like to propose another list, a list of annoyances under heaven.

Annoyed by the old, annoyed by the young.
Annoyed by the strangers and who I’m among.
Annoyed by the fast, annoyed by the slow.
Annoyed by the high, annoyed by the low.
Annoyed by the rich, annoyed by the poor.
Annoyed by myself, but you even more.

What kind of a hit could the Byrds have made with that?

But honestly, what sort of benefit do we ever get from being angry? I have a few things from my past that have truly angered me and that stayed with me, things far more significant than that slow driver in the parking lot. One grudge I cherished for probably ten years, realizing that the person who had wronged me had long ago forgotten my existence. That anger did me absolutely zero good ever, from day one until the day that I determined to put it aside.

It’s not just me that feels this way, and it didn’t require the invention of the automobile for it to become a problem. James took up the matter in the New Testament:

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.

James 1:19-20

Getting in Tune

Different people are inclined to anger in different ways. I’m not an explosive person. Perhaps you are. I do find a hundred little things to bother me. Perhaps you’re more patient with the small stuff. I’m not sure that this matters all that greatly.

Anger, in whatever form, is a non-productive emotion in almost every situation. Think about it. If Jesus could not be righteously angry when a bunch of buffoons arrested Him and started the path that led to Calvary, then what right do I have to anger? If Jesus could say, “Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing,” then how can I hold a grudge against someone? Anger isn’t what we have toward fools. It’s what makes us fools.

Today, I’m going to strive to avoid anger–in the car and beyond.

By the Right Bread Alone (Psalm 19:7)

The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7)

Today, I took my family to lunch at Panera, feeding nine in the bargain. First of all, the price tag hit me a little harder than I thought it would. Then, Olivia appeared beside me as the cashier swiped my card. Apparently she hadn’t ordered. Then, when Penny received her food, macaroni and cheese, it was cold. The crew didn’t seem terribly bothered and took an inordinate time heating or replacing or whatever the bowl. Frankly, I was ticked off. I considered a snarky attack on the people preparing the food. Then I decided to hunt for bigger fish.

Walking toward the manager, a couple of verses popped into my head. First, that whole annoying “Do unto others” thing crossed my mind. Then James 1:20 crossed my mind: “human anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”

With my best calm face on, I explained our problem, the cold mac and cheese, to the manager. He apologized and wound up giving my grandkids free cookies, a good deal all the way around.

The core of this matter, however, does not lie in delicious and free cookies. It lies in how good I felt when I flushed my anger away and calmly explained my problem to the manager. In this case, the law (or word) of the Lord refreshed my soul.

How often do we allow ourselves, caught up in our problems, our frustrations, and our worries, to let the soul go stale. Relying on our own wisdom, we look simple and foolish. We’re tied up in knots over a bowl of cold macaroni and cheese. But then, when we turn from ourselves, from our own wisdom, from our own strength, we find in God’s Word a refreshing sustenance.

In John’s gospel, we read of the Word that was in the beginning. That Word, we discover, became flesh. Eventually, we discover that Jesus is that Word. Later in the gospel, He explains that He is the bread of life (John 6:35). That bread, that Word, will sustain me in times of trouble. Why do I ever place my trust elsewhere?