5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:1-5).
Honestly I was already on edge before I painstakingly herded my boys out to the car. That “gotta go, gotta go” anxiousness had begun to settle as I tried to hurry through the house doing this and doing that. (Hurrying is an especially difficult task when you have a 4 year old who insists on following you everywhere you go). So when I hollered several times for my oldest to stop playing the videogame, grab his stuff, and head to the car, and he came out of his room fussing at ME for not telling him why he needed to stop, and my 4 year old simultaneously insisted that he couldn’t carry his blanket because his arms hurt, I took a moment to pause, give my oldest “the stare” and through clenched teeth respond, “I’m not in the mood for this.”
Once we all finally got out of the door, my denying David Lawrence’s request to sit in the front seat after his dad had allowed him to just the night before further escalated his frustration, and he got in the van, slumped in the seat, and sulked as I buckled Caleb into his carseat. “Why did David let David Lawrence sit in the front seat without talking to me first?” went round and round in my brain, adding more fuel to a situation that was already heated.
I didn’t even get down the driveway before the boys were fighting. Caleb wouldn’t be quiet. Caleb wouldn’t stop smiling at David Lawrence (DL). Caleb wouldn’t stop putting his feet on DL’s lunchbox. And by the time we had turned on the main road, DL wouldn’t stop yelling at Caleb to be quiet. DL wouldn’t stop hitting Caleb. In my gut more and more fuel was being added and the fire grew; I turned on some music to try to drown out the back and forth hatefulness ensuing in the back of the van and the smog floating about in my head—Why did David, Why did David, Why did David….
When loud music didn’t work I reverted to a “this never, ever, ever works while I’m driving” tactic: I yelled, “Be quiet! Don’t say a word for the rest of the way!” And as the fire continued to rise inside me, the desperation of not being able to get away to get a grip and refocus my thoughts set in.
I spent the next five minutes braking and then accelerating and then braking and then accelerating because of the unusually heavy traffic going in both directions. By the time I turned onto the road leading to Caleb’s school, the fire was no longer rising. A hot blaze coursed through me and my driving became erratic. In a final act of fury before turning into the parking lot of Caleb’s school where I could then separate the boys (i.e. get some relief), I stomped on the gas and put the pedal to the metal, literally.
I parked and got out of the car as smoke seeped from beneath the hood of the van. I walked Caleb into school, turned him over to his teacher like I was turning over a criminal, gruffly said, “Bye,” and went back out to the parking lot to see if the van had blown up. Realizing that DL was still in the van, I yanked open the door and said, “Get out! Get out!”
I popped the hood. Smoke swirled, and having no clue what the problem might be, I called David who was already at work. As I called, waited, hung up, called again, waited, hung up, I took the opportunity to say to my son, “See what happens when you lose control of your anger? Mommy acted like an idiot and now there’s something wrong with the van. If I had more self-control, this would have never happened. Now you may not even make it to school, I may not even make it to work…. Let this be a lesson to you, son, that it’s important to get control of your anger while you’re still young so you don’t grow up to have anger issues like Mommy does.”
And then in my mind, the self-berating began: “You’re such an idiot! Why would you do that? You always do something stupid. You have no self-control. You’re never going to get over your anger issues. Why can’t you just stop being so reactive? You’re hopeless. You’re ruining your kids. They’re going to grow up to be just like you. You’re such a failure.”
When David returned my call, the shame of being so imperfect, the shame of being so flawed, had already taken over.
I told him about the smoke coming out of the van and that it was my fault because I had done it yet again, and then I shared what had been happening over the past 45 minutes.
The van finally quit smoking and David and I decided that since the auto shop was just a mile down the road, I should go ahead and drive the van to the shop and he would be there soon to pick up DL and take him to school. DL and I climbed back into the van, I turned on the hazards, and we slowly made our way to the main road. When we had to stop at a red light, the smoking started again, and I just kept praying, “Please, God, let us make it to the shop. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Let us just get there without the van blowing up or catching fire.”
I pulled into the auto shop parking lot, went inside, and returned to the van with two auto mechanics to assess the damage. I had told the mechanics that I had gotten angry at my kids and floored the gas. When they leaned over the hood and one said, “That’s definitely antifreeze,” I said, “Serves me right. That’s what I get for acting like an idiot.”
They both hovered over the van for a while when one decided she needed to get into the car and start it up. The other scanned the engine to try to locate the issue, but he wasn’t having much luck, so she floored the gas. That did it; antifreeze spurted out like a fountain, and he and I both had to jump back to avoid being doused.
“There we go,” he said. He took a closer look, determined the cause, and went back inside to begin the repair process.
When David pulled up I started crying. He held my hand for a bit, said some comforting words, and headed off to take DL to school since he was already 30 minutes late.
I went into the shop and waited.
Normally I would have taken the opportunity to use myself as a punching bag. I would have shamed and condemned myself for being such a failure and for having an A-Z list of character defects and struggles. But on this day I chose to remember that “[t]here is…no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) and I focused on my salvation instead.
In one of Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth, 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells the story of a boastful man (himself) who in a heavenly vision was given a thorn in his flesh, “a messenger of Satan to harass [him], to keep [him] from becoming conceited” (verse 7). He asked the Lord three times to remove the thorn from his flesh, but God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (verse 9). Paul continues saying, “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (verses 9-10).
Later on in the New Testament in the book of Hebrews, the author writes about the importance of having endurance in faith: “…let us…lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (verse 1-2).
The anti-freeze had spewed from the heater hose, and according to both mechanics, my flooring the gas in my sinful anger didn’t actually cause the hose to crack and the anti-freeze to erupt. My flooring the gas actually revealed an already present issue that could have easily resulted in my being stranded in the middle of nowhere on my way to work, waiting for who knows how long for a tow truck to arrive and haul me to who knows where. Instead of this scenario, I happened to be just a mile away from the auto shop where we normally take our vehicles for repairs and maintenance. The shop had to call around to find the part, but it just so happened that they found the part at a parts place right up the road. When David arrived, he never once asked, “What were you thinking?” or lectured me about my out-of-control temper. And when David called my car-geek stepfather to just fill him in on the status of the van, my stepdad called the shop and paid for the repairs, unbeknownst to me and David. Within two hours I was headed back home.
The series of events that day humbled me. I had acted a fool. I had sinned…a lot. But God’s grace covered my sin, and without the distraction of shame and condemnation, I saw that God’s grace truly is sufficient for me, and I refused to allow the cloak of shame that Jesus had already worn so I wouldn’t have to wrap around me. It was a victory and a lesson in amazing grace.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that my behavior was okay. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t have been some consequences for my actions. I’m not saying that I didn’t need to repent. I’m not saying that I don’t need to ask God to strengthen me and help me tackle some of my character defects and my A-Z list of struggles, which includes anger. I’m not saying I don’t need to be transformed, renewed, redeemed, even more than I’ve already been. What I’m saying is that on the “day of the smoking van,” I refused to submit to shame and instead chose to lay the would-be-shame at the foot of the Cross where it belongs. And now I can continue the race of faith set before me. I can continue to endure my weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities by receiving His grace and embracing that it was indeed finished when Jesus took on my sin and shame and died an agonizing, shameful death on that Cross at Calvary.
Pray with me.
Help us remember that we no longer have to wear a cloak of shame, and we no longer have to live lives of condemnation. Help us live as free people who are saved by the shame your son willingly endured. Thank you for the power of endurance that we receive through your grace. You are a good, good Father, and we praise you for all of our undeserved blessings. We give our hearts to you, Lord, and ask that you change our hearts so that we can be more like Jesus.
In Jesus’s name,