My oldest son Jadon got his driver’s license this week. I can honestly tell you that I am not prepared for this. I am not prepared to watch my kids drive away from our house on their own without me. I am literally watching the calendar days flip and be swept away from me as my little boys are turning into fledgling young men and teenagers. I knew it would come, I knew I wouldn’t be ready, and so it is happening. This is the privilege and challenge of the ever-changing life we live.
I still remember the day I first went to get my driver’s license as a young 16-year-old teen. I use the word “first” because I had to do it twice. The first time, I went into the DMV just like every other excited and expectant teenager. The instructor came out with a clip board, called my name, and off I went with her for the driving part of the test. I had already aced the written part and the road sign test. All that was left was that dreaded three-point row turn!
I navigated that entire driving test perfectly. Right hand turn signal, then the left, check the rear-view mirror, keep it between the lines, and with great precision, I mastered the oft-talked about three-point row turn. Bring me my license baby, I’m on my way! As I drove back into the parking lot of the DMV parking lot, the instructor calmly said, “Just pull in and park next to this car”. “Easy enough,” I thought. Then, out of nowhere, “BOOM!” The unthinkable happened. The absolute worst thing you can do on a driver’s test. I bumped into another car in the parking lot. I had aced every single test, all up until this moment, when I bumped into a non-moving vehicle in the parking lot…with the driving instructor from the DMV sitting beside me! My head sank into my chest. The instructor calmly, but firmly said, “Well, wait two weeks and then you can come back and retest again. Now, go inside and see if you can find the driver of that car.” Then she got out and walked back inside. It was as low as I’ve ever felt. It was even worse telling my dad as he walked out of the lobby, assuming I was about to get my license.
I swore my dad to secrecy. If any of my friends found out about this, I’d be ruined. I spent the next two weeks in absolute dejection. As a matter of fact, I’ve never really told anyone about that moment until now. Two agonizing weeks past and my dad asked if I was ready to go back. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t care if I ever drove a car again at that point. But I knew I had to go back or I would be frozen by fear and failure for the rest of my adult life.
I’d like to tell you I went with brave confidence, but I didn’t. I went with a plan of what I was going to do if I failed again. I went with a prayer that I would not get that same instructor. God answered the second half of the prayer the way I prayed it. As I walked into the DMV, I was relieved to find no sign of that previous instructor. But God didn’t take away my nervous trepidation. Instead, the Lord would teach me a different lesson that day. Needless to say, I passed the test and didn’t play demolition derby with any other cars in the parking lot that day. I was relieved. But driving off with my driver’s license in hand that day, I was actually more joyful over the fact that I had found enough courage to pick myself up and go back to the DMV again. It mattered less to me the result of getting my license. It mattered more to me that I simply went back, even if I would have failed again.
In 2 Cor. 4:8-12, the Apostle Paul wrote, “We are hard pressed…perplexed…persecuted…struck down.” But he followed each one with the response of “…but not crushed…but not in despair…but not abandoned…but not destroyed.” I know the context here is more about difficulty and suffering than failure, but it sounds like Paul knew a little bit about getting back up, even when all that is earthly is telling you to stay down.
That moment at the DMV that day is minuscule with comparison to what the Apostle Paul faced. It’s even minuscule compared to the other struggles and failures I’ve faced in my own life since then. But it did teach me how to approach the struggles and failures in my life. Yes, part of life is learning to overcome our fears and failures. But part of life is also having the courage to get back up and keep moving forward victoriously, even if you’re still scared to death.
My greatest teaching moment the second time at the DMV that day was not walking out with my license at the end of the test. The teaching moment was actually getting in the car at the beginning of the second test, and being willing to turn the key in the ignition, and try again, even if it meant I failed again. Strangely, it wasn’t until the moment that car turned on, and the second test began, that all my fear was driven away. I didn’t need to achieve perfection anymore. I just needed to know I was willing to get back up, keep fighting, and keep pressing on.