I know the tendency to read stories of accidents like this and pick apart where the person went wrong. I’ve certainly done it. It seems to give me some measure of perceived control if I can say, “well that person was driving too fast and that’s why he wrecked,” or “well that person wasn’t paying attention to the roads so that’s why she totaled her car.” My thinking always ends on the note, “That wouldn’t happen to me,” and then I clap the dust off my hands and congratulate myself for a job well done.
I’ve rehearsed the morning in my mind probably a hundred times by now trying to find my mistake. When I woke up, I checked school closings to see if the weather had caused delays or closings in my county - it hadn’t. I drove well below the speed limit, especially slowing down around turns and giving myself plenty of room to stop at intersections. I paid attention to the road and whether it had been salted or cleared - it hadn’t; I drove slower. My car has newer tires, newer brakes, and AWD. I was going about 50 mph (on the interstate where the speed limit is 70mph) when I hit ice on the bridge. Cars were passing me going much, much faster.
Aside from impossibly knowing ahead of time that there was a large patch of thick ice in that particular spot of the road, I’m not sure there was anything else I could have done. I did everything I could think of to avoid an accident, and it wasn’t good enough.
This year has been full of these inexplicable mishaps. My aunt and uncle were both healthy and active and young, and they died. My husband and I chose a rental house well within our means with a great landlord, and it was sold. I drove carefully and safely, and I got into a car accident and totaled my car.
I’ve spent most of my Christian life balking at prosperity gospel theology that says if I do good things, right things, faithful things, then God will bless me. And yet I still find myself grasping at those threads and believing those lies when these things happen. Over the past year, I made it my aim to practice daily faithfulness, and in some dark corner of my heart I was placing God in my debt with each small act. I didn’t think about this or make conscious efforts - I wasn’t trying to earn my salvation or store up enough good works to cash them in for something I wanted. But with each inexplicable mishap, I found myself becoming more and more cynical.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so naive to believe my life would be free of suffering, but I was naive enough to believe that the suffering I would experience would more or less make sense. I thought I could put up bumper guards, protecting myself from this suffering and that by avoiding the typical causes. If I didn’t want to be in a car accident, I would guard myself with slow driving and paying careful attention to road conditions. If I didn’t want to move out of a home before I was financially and emotionally ready, I would guard myself by choosing a good landlord.
The truth is that life just doesn’t work like that. There is wisdom in doing things to guard ourselves against suffering as much as possible (see Proverbs), but living faithfully is no guarantee that life will be peaches and cream. We are broken people living in a broken world, and in most cases, we don’t get a choice in the pain we experience. But we do have a choice in how we respond to that pain.
I thought about ending with some blanket statement about how this accident gave me a deeper appreciation for life or how I’m just glad it wasn’t worse. (My car stopped maybe a foot away from the southbound lane; I could have easily found myself t-boned or with severe injuries.) Of course I am thankful my baby and I are both okay, that I walked away with only a concussion and some soreness and that my baby is as healthy as ever. But it would be dishonest for me to tell you that I’m just thankful when, in truth, I wish it had never happened in the first place.
I’ve written some about how unskilled many of us are at grieving ourselves and ministering to others who are grieving around us. This year I’ve found myself again and again in the crucible of learning how to grieve better, how to weep and still trust God, how to be sad but still lean deeply into what I know to be true of God’s character: that he is good, that he does what is best, that he is kind. There is much I am grieving, and the past year has felt like a whirlwind of worst case scenarios flying in the face of my trying to be faithful. But I still believe that God is trustworthy and good. With every moment of pain and inexplicable suffering, I am learning to rehearse the words of Job: “though He slay me, yet will I trust him.”