Driving on Snow
My job as rector is a little like driving a car on a snowy road. It’s very exciting. And a little dangerous. I’ve loved it all these years but soon it will be time to turn the wheel over to someone else and take on the next challenge in life. I imagine that will also be a little like driving on snow because all of life is that way. We rarely have to drive on snow literally around here but let me play a little with the metaphor.
When you drive in the snow, you always have to be looking ahead. You also have to be paying close attention to the immediate situation. If you don’t do both of those at the same time, something’s going to slip up on you. Learning to feel where your tires are and what sort of traction they have, or don’t have, is vital. But you also have to be considering what could be coming around the next turn. You have to think about the snow. You have to think about the car you are driving. You also have to think about the other cars on the road because they are often the biggest threat. Planning and adaptability are both required.
When you drive in the snow, you have to use both the brake and the accelerator, alternately and strategically. If you just keep pressing the accelerator, well there’s a ditch just waiting for you. If you apply the brakes too forcefully, you’ll find yourself spinning in a circle pretty soon. When using the brake, it’s important to apply pressure lightly. You never want to come to a full stop unless you absolutely have to because it’s hard to regain traction and get going again. The accelerator needs gentle application as well. If you gun it, your tires are likely to spin without you going anywhere and you’re totally out of control. You have to accelerate gently. And firmly. While you shouldn’t ever punch the gas petal, there are times when you just have to plow ahead with authority. There are tough places in the road that you just have to push through or else you’ll lose momentum and get stuck.
And, when driving in the snow, there’s always the spinning and sliding that inevitably come about. You can’t anticipate everything and something’s going to sneak up on you. You can’t avoid all the spinning and sliding but it’s really important not to panic when it happens. Panic, rather than the snow and ice, is the real enemy to avoid. When you do start to slide, you can’t push the gas or the brake too hard. Steady application of one or the other is needed. Usually the gas petal is more of a friend than the brake. The steering wheel is the main thing though. You have to turn the steering wheel in the direction you want to go. It helps to look where you want to go and turn the wheel in that direction. That keeps the front wheels from sliding and the back end of the car eventually straightens out.
Driving in the snow is sort of dangerous but it helps to keep reminding yourself that there is great joy in the adventure. Experience helps a lot. The first time you do it, you’ll be less successful than the one-hundredth time, so keep getting back out there. Letting someone who knows what they’re doing teach you is really helpful too. Smaller journeys help build confidence for longer ones.
So, in my life as rector, the image applies well. I have to look ahead. I have to pay attention to where we are and where we need to go. I have to push the gas gently and firmly in order to make good progress. I have to occasionally tap the brake because breakneck speed scares everybody in the car. I have to be respectful of the needs of the passengers and remember it’s not all about me and where I want to go. When we do go into a spin, I need to remember where we were headed and keep my eyes in that direction. And I need to remember how much fun this all is instead of giving into the fears that the dangers give rise to.
How does the image apply to you own life? We all have responsibilities. We all have circumstances we are trying to navigate. We all experience inclement weather. We’re all on a journey. All of those things can be enemies that threaten to destroy us or friends that guide us and teach us.
When it actually does snow around here, most folks just don’t get in the car which is probably a good idea for the most part. But life doesn’t give us that option all the time. Sometimes we just have to get out there and give it a shot. We have to engage the world despite our fears. We have to have a few accidents and learn from them. We have to draw on the peace that is available to us and take the next step in our lives.
Life can be dangerous but it’s a beautiful thing. God is present with us in all our undertakings. The Christian gospel calls us to engage the world, to take risks, to move onward. The Holy Spirit equips us for all of that. Get out there and give the snowy road your best. It’s what we’re made for.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.