When I first got my driver’s license, I learned to drive a car with a manual transmission or what we referred to as “driving a stick”. Nowadays most cars have automatic transmissions which has definitely made this much more interesting to explain to our kids who I can only imagine must be picturing their mom learning to drive a car with a small branch. However, driving a stick means that you have an extra pedal or clutch at your feet that you are manually or physically changing the gears on your car from 1st gear to sometimes up to 6th gear depending on how many gears your car has. Everytime your vehicle comes to a stop, you have to begin again at 1st gear until you increase your speed enough to switch gears. The trickiest part is that if you do not do this correctly, your car will stall out or basically turn off. It requires a great deal of synchronization that can be tricky to master, especially when a stop sign is at the top of a hill and you have cars behind you because if you stall you inevitably roll backwards. So what does driving a car with a manual transmission have to do with grace?
Getting my first driver’s license driving a car with a manual transmission was one of my first lessons about learning about grace. You see, I am actually a middle child and watched my two older brothers and sister struggle to learn to drive– countless times I was mortified in the backseat as once again we would have stalled out in the middle of an intersection while a myriad of onlookers would give us dirty looks. I vowed that I would be different and would not struggle the same way, but just like my siblings, I also experienced my fair share of stalling out and the absolute fear of a stop sign at the top of a hill. Yes, I was humbled but I also noticed that I had more patience, more sympathy and more understanding for other drivers who were driving a stick shift. I experienced the feeling of grace for the shortcomings of others. I realized that they were doing their best and that we all had weaknesses and me pointing out that a driver had made me miss a light didn’t change the fact that the light was missed. I stopped focusing on the weakness of others and instead felt more gratitude for the grace that I had experienced from others and from God for my own shortcomings.
There are several benefits that grace allows that nothing else compares to. In any relationship, both parties are going to have shortcomings that leave someone to make up the difference. Having grace means that you realize that you require help too and allows for a pathway of understanding. I can remember being shocked as a teenager that you could be in a relationship where you really loved your partner and that they loved you in return but that you could still hurt and be hurt by them. There is no such thing as a perfect person or a perfect relationship and grace allows you to strive for improvement amidst weaknesses and frailties. Being in a relationship means that we are all here attempting to drive a stick shift and mistakes can contribute to learning. Shaming a mistake of a partner does not advocate for change or learning but grace allows us to understand perfection and then need to feel loved even when we are least deserving.
Grace also assists in being able to stop the negativity and that is derived from comparison. Studies about bullying are now realizing that bullying is often not stopped many times as there is a relief that comes from attention being on someone else. Focusing on the mistakes or frailties of someone else means that fingers aren’t being pointed in your direction. We focus on where we are excelling and then find a person who isn’t excelling in that area to point out how good we are. For example: Your child was on time for school so let’s focus on those mom’s whose kids are consistently tardy or your proposals are on time so let’s focus on the coworker who is often late with their proposals. You have nice shoes so let’s focus on the kid whose shoes are less than stellar. However, grace completely derails comparison because you realize that there is “WE”. “WE all make mistakes.” “WE all fall short sometimes.” “WE all bleed when we get hurt”. “WE all require grace.” Our need for grace is something that we all have in common and is the antidote for comparison which often times fuels negativity and bullying.
Not only is grace essential in relationships and being able to be successful in creating and maintaining a healthy relationship, grace is also essential for every individual. Grace allows you a way to move forward. Grace allows you to understand that there is a way to begin again and a way for shortcomings to be made whole. When you offer grace to others, it becomes easier to offer grace to yourself and to recognize and improve personal weaknesses.
Even now, when I see a driver’s ed vehicle, I inwardly smile and remember those moments of struggle as I learned to drive a stick shift and where the grace of someone else– the person who didn’t stare me down but gave a knowing smile in the intersection—allowed me the ability to become better. That is what grace does for all of us–it allows us to remember that there is a way for all of us to become better and move forward.