Yesterday I spent my morning at Defensive Driving Class and, no, it wasn’t just for fun. I got a speeding ticket a few months ago, and this class seemed like my best option. I have to say that the class was much better than the last time I took it (shorter and more multi-media). My fellow speeders were a diverse bunch and none of us wanted to be there. Made for some interesting observations and lessons that I think translate into the rest of life:
1. Everybody has a “good reason” why he or she messed up. I felt like we were all part of Shawshank Redemption, where the inmates prided themselves on the fact that nobody was guilty. Whether it was because of stupid people on their cell phones, bad drivers that forced people into difficult situations, or speed traps (my personal excuse), everyone had a reason that they weren’t as bad as their ticket indicated.
2. Everybody is defensive and self-justifying. The morning was filled with the kinds of questions that tell you that people didn’t really want the answers as much as they wanted a platform to publicly share their excuse. It wasn’t enough to feel personally justified for our law-breaking behavior; we needed to make sure everyone else knew how good we were.
3. Impactful teaching requires an authentic life behind the words. The class was taught by a loud, self-confident former truck driver from Chicago who clearly knew all the correct driving rules and the many reasons not to speed and wasn’t afraid to condemn those of us who were speeding (“You people need to learn…”). However, both through a personal conversation, it was clear that he was a perpetual speeder dealing with road-rage problems who scoffed at the idea of really driving the speed limit. As a result, the lessons seemed hollow and fake. It was a reminder to me, as a teacher and preacher of God’s word, that my teaching is only as impactful as the life behind it.
All of this reminds me about my need to believe the gospel day by day. Only through the gospel will I 1) have the freedom to admit that I am as bad as I am, 2) lose my need to impress others with my excuses, 3a) have the power to live a life that is authentically changed, and 3b) admit my failures and shortcomings in my teaching rather than give off the appearance of sham holiness.