“Need a lift?” The voice calling out from the navy blue pickup startles me out of my concentrated gaze on my jeans and dusty, green Converse All-Stars. I had been walking the lonely dirt road for hours now, without a single soul for miles. Not that I had been looking. My aloneness was completely intentional.
I look up to see the look of slight concern and friendliness on the man’s face as he leans a bit towards the passenger side window he’s rolling down. His left arm is hooked over the steering wheel, and he’s wearing a faded jean jacket. It reminds me of the one hanging in my closet that used to belong to my father. I start to say “No, thanks, I’m good,” but then I realize—oh, it’s Jesus. Haven’t seen him in a while, but I should have figured…well, ok fine. What could it hurt.
The backpack slung over my shoulders is starting to get heavy anyways. “Yeah, that’d be great, thanks,” I reply, a little weariness creeping into my voice. I ran out of water about two miles before he arrived. I hope he has something to drink in the truck.
Jesus smiles and puts the truck in park, then hops out and takes my backpack. He tosses it into the bed and opens the passenger side door in one swift motion. I smile back gratefully and climb in, pulling the seatbelt across my chest. There’s an entire case of bottled water at my feet and I help myself to one. It’s a little warm from being stored on the floor of the truck, but it temporarily quenches my thirst.
He walks around the front of the truck and gets back in as I take another sip. The truck isn’t spotless, but it’s not filthy either. Looks like he’s been delivering stuff—maybe those handcrafted maple cabinets? I run a finger over the vinyl dashboard in front of me, inspecting the layer of fine dust. Jesus glances my way and I draw back instantly, almost a little sheepish.
The truck rumbles a bit as we continue down the road. “Where are you headed?” he asks me, reaching towards the radio and pressing the number five preset. Country music drifts softly out of the speakers. I roll my eyes.
“I don’t have a specific destination,” I tell him, turning my attention out the window to see the woods rushing by us. The leaves are all golden and red, such glorious change that beckons all the self-proclaimed photographers and photojournalists and tourists out this way to capture a piece of nature’s wonders — until the winds come and the trees are stripped bare for about four long, cold months.
Jesus clears his throat. “Really? That’s surprising. You used to have such a keen sense of direction.”
I don’t know why, but I feel a slight twinge of resentment towards him. It’s not like he really knows me. We haven’t held a conversation in months, and I only accepted the ride to get off my feet for awhile. I’m starting to regret getting into the truck.
When I don’t respond, he turns the music up a notch. Kenny Chesney
croons a story of lost love to me over the airwaves. I’m so tired of hearing songs
that tell of people who can’t hold on to what they’ve got in front of them. Being a musician myself, I make a mental note as I listen to be more original. More creative. More intellectual.
“It appeals to the broken-hearted,” Jesus says quietly, breaking into my thoughts. I feel like he’s reading my mind and I blush. “It makes more money too,” he chuckles. “People can always find a way to exploit pain, huh?”
A vision of Roman guards gambling over Jesus’ garments as he hung on the cross hits me out of nowhere, like a long-lost memory. My eyes are drawn to the stark white scars on his wrists from the nails, and I quickly look away, a sick feeling in my stomach. “Yeah,” I say, turning my attention back to the window. “Yeah, I guess they know where the money’s at.”
We drive in silence for what seems an eternity, but actually turns out to only be a few minutes when I look back at the neon green numbers displaying the time on the dashboard. The sun is setting, ribbons of orange and pink intertwining to create a lush watercolor masterpiece in the autumn sky. Normally, I would sit and watch until it faded, but I lose sight of it in the truck as we round a bend in the road and start up a hill. The truck’s engine throws itself into the climb and reduces speed.
My head drops back against the seat. There are so many things I want to say…and I’m pretty sure Jesus knows that. But it’s been so long, and I just don’t feel comfortable being honest. He disappeared for all those moments when I needed him anyway, right?…so why should he expect me to spill my guts now?
We get to the top of the hill and I can see for miles around. The road cuts through a field that has been recently dredged and overturned by tractors. The dark soil looks rich and healthy.
Jesus downshifts, then glances at me. “You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to,” he answers my thoughts again. I lift my head quickly and look at him.
“You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to,” he answers my thoughts again. I lift my head quickly and look at him.
“You’re right, I don’t have to if I don’t want to,” I retort, feeling my eyes beginning to sting from the tears that threaten to spill over. “It doesn’t matter anyway, since all the times I actually needed you, you weren’t anywhere to be found.”
I hear his intake of breath, as if what I just accused him of is a shock. I cross my arms. He can’t deny what I said. I have months and years of examples to support my attitude.
The silence in the cab is becoming uncomfortable and I shift warily in my seat. “I didn’t ask you to drive me anywhere, Jesus. You didn’t have to pick me up and show me any mercy. Not only don’t I deserve it, but I don’t know if I even want it.”
“I didn’t ask you to drive me anywhere, Jesus. You didn’t have to pick me up and show me any mercy. Not only don’t I deserve it, but I don’t know if I even want it.”
The shadows are long now and the sky is turning a purple-gray. Soon, black velvet sprinkled with meticulously placed diamonds will stretch itself out over the earth, bringing the night. I can already see the moon rising. The shadows in the cab are turning us both into faded outlines.
“Tell me what you’re so afraid of.”
It’s not a request, it’s an order. I can try to ignore it…but I can’t pretend that I don’t know he’s actually God. I sigh—a long, mournful, tired sound.
“It’s been so long since I’ve been real and honest,” I begin, but my voice sounds lame to my ears. I continue, trying to appear more confident. “I know I’ve made mistakes, been a hypocrite…but I asked you repeatedly to help me out! I begged for forgiveness, tried, again and again, to be better, and look where I am now.”
Jesus just listens. He slows at a stop sign and presses the turning signal down. We turn left onto a paved road, driving past a house with a couple sitting on a wide front porch, enjoying the last few minutes of daylight. They wave to us.
“I think I’ve had enough of this broken-heart business,” I start up again. “It’s like everyone I ever trusted lets me down in the end, I’m always losing someone or something, and even when I pray and trust you, it turns out badly. ‘All things work together for good’, huh? Good job, Paul.”
When I hear Jesus’ chuckle, I bristle. “Fine! Laugh at me. Doesn’t make any difference since you don’t ever really listen to me.”
The sudden slamming of the brakes and pulling off to the side of the road startles me and my hand flies to the door handle. Jesus throws the truck in park and whirls to face me. I can still make out his features in the dim twilight, and my heart pounds at the thought that maybe I went too far. Maybe sparring with God isn’t always the wisest choice.
“Alright, Miss Woe-is-Me. I’m listening. I’ve been listening for the last two hours, actually, and you know what I hear? A whining, spoiled, selfish girl who is more concerned with her own agenda than the reasons behind her so-called sufferings.”
I catch my breath as tears spring to my eyes again. “I know you’ve been hurt,” he continues, his voice more gentle. He takes my hand and I stiffen, feeling the rough, hard-worked skin caress my own. “I know you feel betrayed, angry…most of it directed at yourself. You need to let that go. I’ve been here all along, waiting for you to turn to me, to give up that hard-headed control you’re so bent on. But you always said you could do it, you didn’t need me.”
I turn my face away from him, knowing the truth in what he’s saying. I’m a control-freak. I like my perfect, well-maintained agenda and to have the upper hand in every situation, conversation, relationship…I’m…oh what’s the word?
Oh yeah—I’m “difficult”.
I breathe out slowly, and a tear slips down my cheek. “Well, yeah…” I grudgingly agree. “Guess I liked the idea that you were there, but assumed I had to take care of everything regardless. I liked being in control and didn’t want to hand that over to you just because you asked for it.”
Jesus’ thumb runs over the back of my hand. “I gave you the gift of leadership and relentlessness for a reason. I have great things in store for you. But you need to learn to use those things as gifts, not hindrances.”
He lets go of my hand and we pull back out onto the road. I feel myself
longing for him to hold me and take away the pain, but I sigh instead and lean against the door. We drive a few more miles in silence, my brain trying to work over what he’s said.
Would everything work itself out “for my good” if I’d just surrender control to him? Maybe I’d get my sense of direction back…maybe I’d be more at peace. But how could I ask him for something so big when I’m nothing but a failure?
The sky has turned completely dark now and the moon has risen to join the stars. We round another bend and I lose Jesus in the darkness of the cab—only his steady breathing gives him away.
“You need to surrender,” I hear him say, in a voice so calm and assuring. “Stop focusing on yourself and begin to see the beauty in the pain. Give me your hurts, your fears, your anger, your resentment and hardened heart. Let me make you whole again.”
I know this is what I want. But I can’t bring myself to say it. “No,” I start to protest, but now I’m crying in earnest. “God, I’ve been so angry with you! I’ve masked my emotions so I wouldn’t have to be real with you, I’ve tried to control my life so you didn’t have to, and I’ve screwed up. I’m nothing! I’m not worthy to even be in your presence right now!”
The sobs wrack my body and I draw my knees up to my chest. I’m ready to lose my grip and fall. I’m finally realizing I cannot do this on my own. Something breaks inside of me.
I’m so preoccupied I don’t remember when Jesus stops the truck and turns off the engine. I can’t see him, but he removes his seatbelt, unbuckles mine, and pulls me into his strong arms. All I feel is love. All I sense is forgiveness and grace. My tears won’t stop flowing and I bury my face in his chest — a loving Father comforting His helpless daughter.
“You’re incredibly worthy. I love you,” he whispers in my hair, smoothing it away from my face and tucking strands behind my ears. “Yes, you’ve made mistakes, but you’re human! Everyone makes mistakes. I knew what you’d do before I created you. All those mistakes, I saw before you made them, and still knew I would use you for my purposes. I knew the plans I had for you.”
“But…but I’ve broken your heart by being so stubborn, ignoring you, pushing you aside…I’m so, so sorry…” I blubber and feel his arms tighten around me as he cradles me in his lap.
“You’re forgiven! You are forgiven and free! I paid it all for you. I’ve erased your past, now you need to pick up and press forward. Be all I have created you to be! Forgive as I forgive, love as I love, serve as I serve—be Christ to those who need me most.” I can’t see it, but I hear him smile and he presses his lips to my forehead. “You are beautiful and you are mine. Stop walking these dusty roads with your heavy burdens, and start walking in freedom and joy. I give you my peace.”
I feel that peace flood through my being, breaking the chains on my soul. For the first time in a long time, I feel alive. Forgiven and free. I take a deep breath to steady myself and open my eyes.
I’m sitting on my bedroom floor in the darkness. Jumping to my feet I check the time on my clock radio—it reads midnight. I look around the room, feeling unsure. Am I alone again? Was I dreaming?
I’m right here. I always have been and always will be. I hear the voice like a whisper in my ear and feel like I have become new.
I’m not alone. I never was.