First, I noticed an odd smell of melting rubber.
Then, I felt the car lurching ever so slightly.
I next heard an unexplainable thudding that I thought was coming from the truck next to me.
It wasn’t until I peeked in my rearview mirror and inquired, “Hey, is that my car making this weird noise?” and one of the girls assured, “Yep! It’s your car!” that I knew I was in trouble.
My very first flat tire.
On the side of the road in the middle of rural Illinois.
As darkness was falling and chasing away any hope of fixing my tire by daylight.
With a car full of seventh grade girls, giddy with excitement and crooning out love songs as they crammed candy into their mouths.
As we were on our way to the massive confirmation retreat that I was leading that weekend.
The timing couldn’t have possibly been better.
I stepped out of the car, throwing my thick binder of to-do lists and contact information for the retreat onto the floor. As I looked at my shredded and totally flattened tire, I felt a sinking feeling. I was definitely going to be very late to the retreat I was leading. Luckily, several other leaders were taking the lead while I made my way to the retreat center, but I found myself stressed beyond belief as I thought of all the things that needed to get done while I was sitting on the side of the road, helpless, waiting for assistance.
It was then, as I sat glumly in the dusk, watching the girls dance around their suitcases in an abandoned parking lot we pulled into, that I realized something incredibly important:
Leaders keep it together and do the right thing when everything else around them is falling apart.
And when young, impressionable teenagers are observing your every expression and frustrated mutter and seeing if it lines up with what you profess as a Christian, it’s important to be aware of the impact you have on others as a leader.
Instead of succumbing to the temptation to pout over my shredded tire, grit my teeth in exasperation, and pore over the schedule I would now have to dictate to others via texts from the side of the road, I consciously made a decision to do the right thing and model good Christian behavior to these girls.
We piled up our suitcases and pillows on the ground and flopped down and swapped jokes. They made goofy “help us!” signs with brightly-colored duct tape and posed for pictures together. We discussed how blessed we were to get a flat tire on a side road and not on the highway, where we could have been in serious danger of getting struck by another vehicle, and we gratefully prayed our thanks to God for keeping us all safe.
C.S. Lewis once said, “It is not your business to succeed, but to do right; when you have done so, the rest lies with God.” I post this message on the front of my computer in florescent paper, because I need to remind myself of this constantly. I’m so often tempted to fall into the incorrect train of thought that everything rests on my shoulders, that it’s my responsibility to control every facet of my ministry and make it successful, and that each failure reflects personally on me.
Instead, it’s simply my job as a Christian leader to “do right” and trust that God is in control.
So what does it mean, to “do right,” in this context?
To me, it means simply trusting the promptings and whispers of the Holy Spirit in my life, as well as the clear direction that the Holy Scripture gives me for living as a child of God in this world–and to know that the weight of the world doesn’t rest on my shoulders, but in God’s hands.
It’s faithfully doing the job that He has set before me–even when it sometimes feels tedious, irritating, or overwhelming–and trusting that He’s accomplishing His will, even when I don’t understand it.
It means being thankful and expressing my gratefulness to God for the gift of His Son, my Savior Jesus, even in the midst of the frustrating moments of my life. It’s recognizing the joy of being able to teach and lead wonderful young teenagers, even when they’re driving me batty with their silly jokes. It’s realizing that God doesn’t expect me to be perfect, but instead handed His perfect Son over to death so that I could inherit the eternal, blissful future in heaven that I definitely don’t deserve.
2 Corinthians 4:7-9 says it well: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
I can sure identify with being hard pressed on every side sometimes. Oh, yeah, and perplexed? Persecuted? Struck down? Been there, done that.
This Word continues on, though, to comfort me in verses 16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
My “light and momentary troubles” are temporary. But my Heavenly Father is eternal.
And despite all the shredded tires, wasted duct tape, and bungled schedules I encounter in this world, I’m waiting with peace in my heart for my bright future in heaven.
Which is definitely not on the side of the road in rural Illinois, stranded with a bunch of hyper thirteen-year-olds.