Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
– Proverbs 14:29, NRSV
Throughout this week, inspired by one of my latest reads (The Book of Joy, co-authored by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama), we’re talking about joy. We’re talking about true joy — not fleeting, circumstantial happiness, but deep, sustainable joy. And we’re talking about the kinds of things that sometimes seem to stand in the way of joy — obstacles to joy, so to speak.
What kind of obstacles? For my part… the most reliable joy-thief in my life is the fact that other people are allowed to drive on the road at the same time I am. Yes, I am aware of how utterly unreasonable that sounds. I understand that I am not afforded the right to have the road all to myself. I get it… and yet still, the fact remains: other cars on the road, other drivers on the road, traffic on the road — that is the thing that most reliably steals my joy. One of the few silver linings of this pandemic is the fact that it has somewhat lessened the amount of time I spend in the car, on the road, near other drivers.
Come now, some of you must know what I mean. I’m talking about those times when I’m stuck in a bottleneck on the highway because everyone in front of me has to slow down to look at a stick on the side of the road. I’m talking about those times when I have to sit through a red light for a second time because the driver in front of me couldn’t look up from his phone long enough to notice that the light has turned green. I’m talking about the times when I end up fifteen minutes late to my destination because the person in front of me thinks the left lane offers a better vantage point from which to take in the foliage. I’m talking about the times when PENNDOT decides that Monday afternoon at 4:00 PM is the best time to do road work on Route 22, Route 33, and Interstate 80, all at the same time. Steals. My. Joy.
So I was delighted when Douglas Abrams (the journalist who co-authored The Book of Joy with these two spiritual giants) recounted a little story in which the archbishop himself was caught in traffic, in the highways and byways of northern Florida. He writes:
How does a deeply spiritual and moral leader drive in traffic? … We were talking about many high-minded philosophies and theologies, but what I really wanted to know was how all his spiritual practice and beliefs affected his day-to-day interactions, like driving in traffic. … All of a sudden a car cut across the lanes in front of us and the Archbishop had to swerve out of the way to avoid hitting the other car. “There are some truly amazing drivers on the road!” the Archbishop said with exasperation and a head-shaking chuckle. I asked him what went through his head at moments like this, and he said that perhaps the driver was on his way to the hospital because his wife was giving birth, or a relative was sick. There it was. He reacted with the inevitable and uncontrollable surprise, which is one of our instinctual responses, but then instead of taking the low road of anger, he took the high road of humor, acceptance, and even compassion. And it was gone: no fuming, no lingering frustration, no raised blood pressure. (The Book of Joy, 101-102).
And no loss of joy.
We’re only human. A knee-jerk reaction of shock or frustration or anger may creep up in life, friends (we are living in the midst of a pandemic, after all)… but it doesn’t have to steal joy. So the next time you encounter something that may normally lead you to anger, may God’s Spirit lead you to humor, acceptance, and even compassion.
May you be slow to anger… and in doing so, may you hold on to joy.
Meet stress and anxiety with contentment and joy, friends. And as you do, remember:
Our God is bigger than coronavirus.
Our vision is bigger than coronavirus, too.
We are people blessing people.
We are Wesley Church.
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