Your Commute as a Spiritual Discipline

(April 14, 2016)

My morning commute reminds me that I am not the Christian I should be. I drive nine miles to my job—two miles of neighborhood, three miles of suburban commerce, and four miles of houses close enough to Atlanta that we cannot afford them. The trip takes about twenty-five minutes, which is considered next door in Atlanta. (I tried the interstate once. After an hour, I vowed not to make that mistake again.)

I pass train tracks, two tiny cemeteries, and what may be the only full-service gas station in the city. Sometimes I drive through McDonald’s. I have decided that the breakfast burrito is, sadly, the best I can do. I tried to get them to start offering iced decaf coffee by ordering it five days in a row, but they just grew irritated.

I go by four churches. They have helpful information on their marquees—“Join us for worship at 11 on Sunday”—but I keep hoping for “Choose the Bread of Life or you are toast.”

I have made this trip more than a thousand times. If I leave home at 7:00, I am in danger of stopping at every other house behind a school bus. If I leave at 7:15, I may get stuck in front of Tucker High School, where the students move slowly across the street. When I use the navigation app Waze to avoid traffic, I drive by retirees walking their dogs. I try to look like I am not cutting through their neighborhood to take two minutes off my commute.

When two lanes merge into one, I strain to think good things about the drivers who cut to the front of the line. Perhaps they are all rushing to the hospital to deliver babies. I find it easier to exercise patience since my horn stopped working two years ago.

Sometimes I listen to sports talk on 680 The Fan:
“Which happens first—the Falcons win the Super Bowl, the Braves win the World Series, or Tyler Perry wins an Academy Award?”
“Could the Oscar be for costume design?”
“Would you rather your child lose a toe or become an Alabama fan?”
“Which toe?”

I have not found the radio station that plays the music I love. The only singer I recognize on most stations is Adele. The country stations do not work for me because I do not go to honky-tonks nearly as often as you might think. There is no all-Bruce-Springsteen-all-the-time station.

I drive a 1998 Ford Escort that was totaled a year ago when a driver talking on a cell phone ran into me. The CD player has not worked in five years. Van Morrison’s Greatest Hits is stuck in there. Early each May, I get the air conditioner fixed. I have cold air until the middle of August.

When I am feeling smart, I turn to the news on NPR. I try to remain interested when they discuss the major exports of Tunisia, but I do not know where Tunisia is.

For the last few years, I have been listening to podcasts. 10% Happier is about meditation, which is a challenge when driving in Atlanta. NPR Politics has been depressing since the presidential campaigns have started again. On Being, an amazing discussion of faith, is the podcast most easily quoted in sermons. I usually love Radiolab, but a recent episode on South Korean pop stars suggests I may not be their target audience. I listen to Garrison Keillor’s news from Lake Wobegon, “where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average.”

When I call Carol on my way home, she knows I am killing time and says sweet things like “I’ll be glad to talk when you get home.” When I call my parents, they “don’t want to talk too long because it’s long distance.”

Lately I have been driving in silence. I notice more when the car is quiet. I wave at the walker who goes backward up the hill near our house. I do not know the names of the flowers, but I look for the dark red and white ones.

Sometimes I pray. On the way to work, I pray that I will remember that God will be with me through the day. I cannot close my eyes, so I pray for the students crossing against the light. I notice the other drivers—signs that God is as present on Georgia State Highway 29 as at the seminary to which I’m driving. On the way home, I apologize for the ways I have forgotten that God was with me.

We are more ourselves when driving alone than at almost any other time. Would we want to be friends with the person we are when drive? Are we following Christ when we are heading to work?

What we do in the car may not sound like a test of faith, but it is an opportunity for faith. For a long time, I did not expect much from myself on my commute, but I am learning.

This post was originally published in Funny When You Think About It: Serious Reflections on Faith by Brett Younger.

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