Car Wrecks and Prosperity Theology

Last week I was in a car accident and totaled my car. Thankfully, I only had a concussion and both my baby and I are doing great. I want to thank everyone who shared kind words, prayed for me, offered their help with moving (because we also moved last week), or encouraged me. Your kindness was more than I could ask for and I am so grateful to have experienced your love after my wreck.

Last Tuesday I left for work early in the morning, driving slow and careful on roads that were untreated and icy. It was 32 degrees. Freezing. On the interstate, I hit ice on a bridge and my car took on a mind of its own, moving out of the boundary line of my lane. I was hit by a truck from behind and found myself in the snow covered median inside a totaled car with a shattered back glass.

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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.

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A Letter to My Husband on Our First Anniversary

Dear Husband,

I wanted to write you a love letter with timeless words and meaningful sentiments for our one year anniversary. Instead, I could think only of your hands, your long fingers and bitten nails, the way the top is tanned dark and your palm is pink with creased lines. A few days ago, those hands held a dirty rag and cleaning supplies while you cleaned our whole house top to bottom as a surprise for me. You said it was cathartic to use your hands to make our house shine after a full morning of staring at a computer screen putting words together into sentences and thoughts and paragraphs.

Over two years ago your hands held a tiny black box with a ring hidden safely inside. They shook as you bent down on one knee and held that ring up to me, asking me if I would marry you. Do you know that was the easiest, “yes” of my life? I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t have to think. My answer was and is forever, “Yes.”

For months before we were married your hands tapped out text messages to me while I was at school. Even 250 miles away, your hands found ways of comforting me. On a warm August day, I stepped into a white dress, my hair curled and my makeup done, and I waited. When I saw you, I wanted to fall into your arms and never leave. I wanted to whisper all the things I love about you into your ear and watch you smile. I wanted your laugh to be the soundtrack I listened to for the rest of my life. When we said our vows, I tried to memorize the moment, not wanting to forget how the sun shone brightly on your dark hair and glinted off the new ring on your finger.

People ask me what it is like to be married to you and I want to answer it is like a dream. Every night that I fall asleep curled next to your warm body in a bed we share, I can’t help but think about what a gift you are to me. Every morning that I wake up and you are there beside me, sleep still in your eyes and your hair a morning mess, I feel as though I am waking up to a dream.

People say we are still in the honeymoon phase and have yet to experience what marriage is truly like. It is always spoken like a low warning, as if our joy and love is a threat because our marriage is less than a year old. Sometimes I wonder if they would change their minds if they had been with us on those long nights when your hands rubbed the small of my back while I cried into your chest. I wonder if they would try to stuff the words back into their mouths if they had stood beside us at the funerals we attended, if their eyes found the grave mud still on my shoes kicked off at our front door. When I say that being married to you is like a dream, it is not because we are unfamiliar with what it is like to live in a nightmare.

Our love is young, but it is not untested. At night in the darkness of our bedroom your hand always finds mine and you pray for us, your voice as soft as a lullaby. On weekends when you stand on a platform with lights shining in your eyes and the members of our church gathered in seats to hear, that same hand curls around your bible as you preach. You are a man who is as faithful in the quiet and the dark as you are in the spotlight on a stage, and this is something for which I am more thankful than you know.

When we are home, you slip your hand into mine while we sit beside each other. Your fingers are calloused from the strings on your guitar and I think about how you fill our home with music. With you, each moment is its own verse and bridge and chorus. Sometimes you sing quietly along with the music and I hold it in my heart like a secret, the way your voice lingers in the room even after you’ve stopped singing, as if the walls are still listening.

Your hands fit you. Your hands are big like your joyful laugh and the way you love people in a way that is larger-than-life. Your hands are soft like the way you speak to me after a long day, or the way you tear up at every sad scene of a movie. Your hands are warm like your smile and the way you invite people into friendship so easily and naturally.

I stand next to you and your hand finds mine just like your laugh found me and your soft voice found me and your smile and friendship found me. You pull me out of myself and make me better. You serve me tirelessly and encourage me without complaint. You are my counterbalance, the hand I find in the middle of the night when I am afraid.

We’ve now been married for a year and every moment feels sacred. I don’t ever want to forget that. I don’t ever want to forget how our hands, just like our lives, fit together perfectly. I am grateful that we found each other, that one night the Lord deemed it good and right for us to reach out, look each other in the eyes, and fit our hands together. I pray, even if it is a foolish prayer, that we will always have each others’ hands to hold.

With Love,

Your Wife

Photo by the incredibly talented Stefanie Madison from  Be Light Photography .  You can view the rest of our wedding gallery  here!

Photo by the incredibly talented Stefanie Madison from Be Light Photography.

You can view the rest of our wedding gallery here!