Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.
I’m driving on Westlake toward the south end of Lake Union, where I’m supposed to drop off my son for his sailing lesson. The lesson starts in five minutes, and he’s going to be late. I’m in the left lane, trying to get past a semi, but there’s road construction and the street narrows to one lane just ahead.
I manage to get in front of the semi, but when I look over my shoulder to see if there’s space for me to merge, the semi driver steps on his accelerator. I’m forced to slip in behind him. “Jerk!” I say out loud.
“Who’s a jerk, Mama?” my daughter asks from the back of the van.
I take a deep breath. One of the practices I’ve embraced since beginning my year of prayer is to bless those who annoy me. This occurs most often and most viscerally when I’m driving. After more than two decades of habitual screeching at the morons with whom I share the road, I have a deep groove in my brain that sends words like idiot and jerk and something that starts with A and ends in hole streaming out of my mouth when I’m sitting behind a steering wheel.
But recently, I’ve begun to realize something. Jesus, about whom I’m all gaga right now, this God-man I say I follow and want to be like—well, it’s dawning on me that he wouldn’t yell names at semi drivers who cut him off. He wouldn’t mutter miscreant or cretin under his breath, however smart such words might make him feel. No, Jesus would see that other driver as a child of God, created in the divine image, beloved.
This is a very frustrating realization. There’s something morally satisfying about feeling myself slighted or mistreated when I’m driving. It feels like I have a right to yell about it. And maybe I do. But as I draw nearer to Jesus, I find the yelling isn’t as satisfying as it used to be. As soon as the nasty name is out of my mouth, I feel myself convicted: That’s My child you’re calling a jerk.
And I recall the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus is very clear that name-calling is not okay:
Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fires of hell.”
And so I’m taking a small step toward no longer calling people fools (or other choice words). When someone annoys me while I’m driving, I pray a blessing over them—after I call them a name, of course. I’d like to get to a place where blessing is my knee-jerk response to irritation, but I’ve a long way to go in that department.
Truth is, half the time when I pray those blessings, I feel a bit self-righteous, like I’m so great that I’m praying for those who annoy me. This used to stop me from praying—I don’t want to be a hypocrite. But then I realized that not praying is exactly what the enemy would want—whatever it takes to shut me up, even if that’s a realization of my own hypocrisy.
So I pray the blessing anyway, even though I’m still annoyed. I pray the blessing even though there’s part of me that feels smug for doing so. I pray the blessing even though I don’t wholly mean it.
Because I want to wholly mean it. I want to get to a place where praying a blessing over those who annoy me is my first response. Right now, I still have to go through the name-calling to get to the blessing, but I’m trusting that with time and practice, the distance between annoyance and blessing will shrink, and that one day, I’ll be able to smile when the semi driver cuts me off and say an instantaneous and heartfelt blessing over him.
“Mama?” Jane asks again. “Who’s a jerk?”
“Oh, the guy driving that truck cut me off,” I tell her. “It’s really not a big deal.”
Then I launch into my blessing, “God, please bless the driver of this truck in front of us. Please give him peace as he drives. Please keep him safe so that he reaches his destination on time and without harm. And please let him be a blessing to other drivers on the road.”
“Amen,” Jane says.
Jesus says “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” For those of you who, like me, aren’t yet able to do this, let me invite you to begin by simply praying for those who annoy you, whether that’s another driver on the road, a blogger with whom you disagree (anyone praying for me right now?), or a colleague who consistently rubs you the wrong way. Let’s use our annoyance and irritation as a call to prayer and so transform it into another path to the heart of God.