When I was a kid, my family used to take car trips. We went south mostly because my grandparents lived in Texas. So, frequently we would meet them halfway between Texas and Michigan. I have a very distinct memory from one of our trips. We were driving along in the blue van. I was in the back seat and at some point I happened to catch a glimpse of a little orange light on the dashboard that said “low fuel.” I thought that this might mean we were running out of gas and we needed to stop, but I figured my dad had everything under control. We’d never run out of gas before. As we passed exit after exit, I started to feel a little nervous. I leaned up again, thinking my mere presence would make my dad realize he should stop and get gas. No such luck. We hurtled down the highway as if all was well. But, I couldn’t shake the anxiety and so I decided just to ask.
“What does ‘low fuel’ mean?”
“It means we’re running out of gas and need to stop to get more.”
Yesterday morning I came home from a business trip to Phoenix. I had been there for four nights (it was supposed to have been three, but something ran late and I missed the last flights out). I had been involved in some super-intense work stuff and had not slept much. I awoke before my alarm went off at 4:45 and had been watching the hours tick away on and off since midnight. I believe I saw all of them except 3:00. I had a cup of coffee and was out the door by 5:02 to catch my 6:35 flight.
On the way to the airport, my GPS kept losing its signal; the line to return my rental car included 10 people in front of me and about 8 behind, so I had to leave it without checking it in to avoid missing my flight; the bus to the rental car building took forever; I tried checking into my flight with Delta when I was flying American; I got in the wrong security line for 10 minutes; I had no time to use the restroom before boarding; and the woman in front of me leaned her seat all the way back for the entire three-hour flight. You get the picture. I know you have had these days.
Here’s the thing, though, every single person I encountered was a barrier to what I needed to accomplish. I caught myself every time, but couldn’t stop. I hated doing it and yet, it just came out of me. I felt like I couldn’t control it.
The woman with the two young kids in front of me was not moving up in line fast enough and this annoyed me. I have been through the airport with a young child and know how hard it is. Yet, I struggled to have sympathy. My thought: Move up! We’re late! The woman behind me was talking to me about how she had gotten in the wrong line and she wasn’t sure she’d make her flight (which was the same flight I was on). My thought: I don’t want to talk to you right now. I’m in a hurry, don’t you know? A barrier. The line at the coffee shop was long and the guy in front of me couldn’t make up his mind. My thought: How hard is it, come on! A barrier. The American Airlines attendant checking the passengers onto the plane asked me to turn my suitcase sideways to see if it would fit on the plane. My thought: I have been taking this bag on planes for 6 years. It fits. Please leave me alone. A barrier.
I could go on demonstrating my ugly thoughts. This lasted much of the day. I realized that the worst stuff in me comes out when my low fuel light is on. All of my selfishness, uncaring, lack of sympathy is exposed. When I am well-rested, when I am not under stress, and when I am in familiar surroundings, I can be so good and peaceful, caring and giving. But put me in a hard spot with little sleep and I don’t even recognize the person God has made me to be. And worse yet, I see people who God has created in His image as a barrier to achieving my own goals and needs.
So often we think that if we are not committing the “big sins” – murder, adultery, stealing, for example – we are pretty good, acceptable to God. But then you have a day or two (or more) with your low fuel light on and you realize how far from God’s holiness and perfection you fall. It’s like looking into one of those super-magnified mirrors they often put in hotel rooms (for reasons I don’t understand at all) that show each and every blemish on your face. Low fuel exposes so many blemishes in my heart. I can barely stand to look. So, what I do is to attempt to resolve these feelings on my own – to beat myself up, try to fix my heart by yelling at myself, or push the feelings down and chalk it up to being tired.
This time, though, I reached a point where I couldn’t help myself. I actually got angry at a car in front of me who I let change lanes, but then did it too slowly to my liking, and I yelled (inside my car): “Come on!” -- with a contempt-filled spirit. I tried to calm myself, tried to collect my thoughts and talk myself into better behavior. But, this contempt and irritation continued to build. There was only one thing to do: pull off onto the nearest exit to re-fuel.
I turned to God in despair, embarrassed by my contempt. I said: “Lord, I am so sorry. This is just coming out of me, I can’t stop it. What is going on? Why am I doing this? I’m just so tired. I’m so tired.” Do you know the response I got? Not: “Stop behaving this way! Figure it out. Get some sleep. Straighten things out. Pick yourself up.” No.
I immediately heard (not aloud, but it might as well have been): “Let me carry you.” This broke me. Tears filled my eyes. I could only say: “Ok. Yes. Please, Lord. Please do. Thank you.” I can’t explain the relief this brought. Something had cleared out. I suddenly knew, I mean really knew, what David meant when he said that God is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” (Psalm 145:8) You see, I can't reach God's holiness and perfection. I cannot bridge the gap. Nothing I do can get me there. Jesus bridges it for me though and instead of pointing out all the ways in which I fall short and condemning me for my inadequacies, He will simply carry me and give me His strength where mine fails.
If your low fuel light is on, it means you are running out of gas. Take the nearest exit. There is someone who will carry you if you would only turn to Him.