I remember family road trips when I was a child. All my cousins on my father’s side lived in Atlanta. My dad was the only one of the 7 siblings that did not live in Atlanta. Each year – sometimes over Thanksgiving, sometimes over Christmas – we would load up the car with kids, bags, and whatnot and off we went. There were games, snacks, and drinks for us all. There was a suitcase with my clothes. The car was serviced, the oil checked, and the gas tank filled. This was before the days of the interstate highways and so there was route planning that needed to be done. I contributed to none of that. My only job was to be on time having recently gone to the bathroom and subsequently thoroughly washed my hands. I wasn’t in charge or responsible for any task or duties. I was 8 years old.
My on-the-road responsibilities included being nice to my sisters, both older than I. Limiting the number of times asking “Are we there yet?” Not shouting and complaining while playing “I spy…” Keeping my head and hands inside the car (I cheated on that one when possible, I mean, who does want to understand basic aerodynamics of airfoils simulated by extending one’s hand out the window in an undulating motion.)
In time I had to take on more responsibilities within the regime of road trips. Eventually I was on my own and had to take charge of it all – and at the same time watch role reversal as my sisters took on the responsibilities of road trip management and planning while their kids explored aerodynamics. And now that generation has their own kids. I am pretty sure the kids are free of road trip responsibilities.
In my own life I have traveled all over the world to live and work in places near and far, fully responsible for the road trip – but supported by airlines, GPS, and not a few people along the way. The days of anxiety-free aerodynamic experimentation from the backseat long since past. But for me that ship has long since sailed; I am no longer the carefree passenger in this life. I’m sitting in the driver’s seat now – planning, doing, wondering if I forgot something, did something, or failed to do something. Adulthood requires anxiety. Sometimes it is a struggle.
“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”(Mark 10:14-15)
And from the front seat/driver’s seat on the road trip of life, I struggle with what that means. Childhood is a long back in the rear view. I’m not the only adult to struggle with this. In the narrative flow of Mark, this text occurs as Jesus prepares to head for Jerusalem. This story is followed by three accounts of those whose anxious preoccupations prevent them from fully trusting God on their trip: the rich man who worries about reaching the kingdom, Peter anxious and wondering if he made the right choice giving up everything to follow Jesus, and then James and John anxious about whether their choice will garner enough prestige. What does it say about fully trusting God if you are preoccupied with possessions, choices, or prestige – and no doubt we could add to that list.
The entry requirement remains clear: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” I have to admit I have often passed over this one verse as an eloquent ideal. There is no turning back the clock to the time when I was a carefree 8-year-old in the backseat and trust of those in the front seat was absolute. But then there is no need. In trust and obedience to the tall people in the front seat, I learned to plan and manage the road trips of life. In time I got to sit in the front seat. I was a student driver and eventually fully licensed. And yes, there are times I am anxious trying to remember if I packed a certain item. If I have my passport. When I am worried about the airline connections in Atlanta or Chicago on a summer’s stormy afternoon. But it works out…eventually. And what does not work out, I have learned to not be anxious and preoccupied about it. Well… at least not too much.
It is not that I do not want control, but I trust enough to know that in reality I am still in the backseat on the journey to the kingdom. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have it under control. From time to time I might be like the rich young man, Peter, James or John. The last three stayed in the backseat and stayed with the road trip until the end of the journey. The worries and concerns of the rich young man led him to get out of the car.
Maybe I will suggest an update of this part of Mark’s gospel: “Let the children of God stay in the backseat. If they trust in God they will not jump out the window or leave the car for they are being chauffeured to the kingdom of God. If they trust in God they will enjoy the journey as they did when they were 8 years old.”
Just as when we were children, grace and mercy abound in the backseat. We won’t always be able to see the way forward or the road ahead, but the Trustworthy one is at the wheel…so, enjoy the ride.