December 28, 2012

Close Encounters and Confessions in a Parking Garage

Parking garage

By Faith McDonnell

As I was driving down to the lower level of the parking garage near my office, I came face to face with a car driving up to the street level. I stopped and the other car stopped. I was about to try reversing until I reached a place I could pull into and allow the other car to pass, but the other driver had stepped out of the car. I was happy to see that it was Issaias, one of the parking garage attendants, a nice Eritrean man with whom I have had many conversations, but I really wondered what he wanted me to do in this situation.

Issaias began gesturing to me to keep driving past him. Now, parking garage driving is not my forte under the best of circumstances (you can ask my IRD colleagues), and this was definitely not the best of circumstances. I was approaching the corner, leading to the ramp going down to the next level. The car he was driving was parked perpendicularly in front of me, a little to my left. And just around the corner, maybe three feet from me, another car was parked against the wall on my right. No way would I ever try on my own to negotiate such an obstacle course!

But Issaias was insistent that he would guide me safely between the two cars and I trusted him. So I kept my eyes fixed on him, instead of the two cars, and did exactly what he said to do. As he waved to the left, I slowly steered left, and crept towards the rear of his car. As he beckoned me directly towards him, I slowly straightened the wheel and drove forward. Finally he waved to the right, and inch by inch I steered to the right. To my amazement, I hit neither his car nor the car on the right. I had looked at Issaias and done what he said to do even though both cars looked so perilously close that had I been looking at them instead of him, I would have crashed into one or both of them for sure.

As I passed Issaias, he held out his hand and I slapped it in victory. “You did it!” he grinned. “Only by keeping my eyes on you,” I replied. . . . “Like Jesus,” I added. And as I pulled into a parking space, the truth of this somewhat flippant statement suddenly occurred to me. So often in sermons and Bible teachings we hear that we should “keep our eyes on Jesus, not the circumstances we are facing.” I had always thought of keeping my eyes on Jesus rather than my circumstances as a kind of spiritual discipline, like “mind over matter.” But it is more than that. It is not just an exercise in obedience; it is the most effective way to navigate the perilous obstacles and devastating circumstances of life without crashing (St. Paul would say “shipwreck your faith,” but if he were more familiar with Toyotas than sailing vessels, he may have used my metaphor).

It would not have done my car or the other two autos any good if I had kept my eyes on Issaias, and he was really bad at giving directions. Fortunately, Issaias drives cars through the various levels of that parking garage, sometimes with cars parked on either side, every day. He is well acquainted with the amount of space needed to negotiate every turn.

In the same way, only Christ, who is God, and has intimate knowledge of us (I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb) and all that takes place in the world can direct us. Only by looking at Him can I navigate through all the things that would cause me to crash – like murder in an idyllic Connecticut town, the slaughter of Christmas church-goers in Nigeria, the bombing death of a family in the Nuba Mountains, the tank-crushed bodies in Tiananmen and Maspero Square, or the fear about our own nation spinning out of control.

In my experience in the parking garage, no car was scratched, scraped, or dented. But in this fallen world and in work that immerses me in the suffering of Christians around the world, even when I keep my eyes on Christ, I do not remain unscathed. I have to care about and be an advocate for those who are persecuted without hating the persecutors, but it is not easy to not hate. If I have my eyes on Jesus, who asked His Father to forgive the ones who persecuted Him, I pray for the grace to not hate the persecutors. Or at least I pray for the grace to even want to pray for the grace to not hate the persecutors.

My friend Issaias could be trusted to guide me through the cars not just because he was good at giving directions, but because I knew he cared about my well-being and didn’t want to me crash into another car. How much more, then, does Jesus care about me, and about His persecuted followers. He loves them far more than I or anyone else could. And He loves their persecutors. That’s what I see when I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus.

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