It’s funny how I sometimes remember seemingly insignificant things years later. It happened earlier this week as I was leaving work. In the midst of this daily routine my mind suddenly flashed to a video scene from the required driver’s education class I took when I was in the 10th grade! This particular scene played out on the simulator not only depicted the instruction on how to make a left turn, but also a very stern warning….perhaps the strongest words in the whole course. It was the warning that stuck with me….PROCEED WITH EXTREME CAUTION!

As you exit the parking lot at our church you have to cross two lanes of west bound traffic before turning left to merge into two lanes of east bound traffic, all of which are moving at or near the speed limit of 45. It can be a harrowing experience as you try to find just the right “hole” between the non-stop flow of cars on this very busy thoroughfare. At certain times of the day it’s almost like taking your life into your own hands.

Granted, left turns are a basic skill every driver has to master. When you turn right you are turning into the flow of traffic going the direction you’re heading. As long as you’ve used your turn signal and made sure the lane you’re turning into is empty there’s no problem. As far as that goes, if you’re turning left at one of those special lanes controlled by a stoplight with an arrow, crossing the oncoming traffic lanes is no big deal. And, obviously, if you’re driving on a freeway where everyone else is going your direction sweeping turns to the left just go with the territory. About the only place that gets easier is on an oval racetrack where everyone has to keep turning left to stay in the race! But the turns where you have to cross oncoming traffic without the benefit of a stoplight can get a little crazy. That’s where the warning from my driver’s education course becomes incredibly relevant….PROCEED WITH EXTREME CAUTION.

If you know me you’ve probably already assumed I haven’t decided to write today to offer you advice on driving. I’m a decent driver but I don’t think I have much to offer you on that subject. But my recent flashback to my 10th grade driving simulator brought another reality to mind – LIFE IS FULL OF LEFT TURNS!

If you’re like me you probably set out on your course of life with a fairly good idea of what life would hold for you. You may or may not have had a career in mind when you were young, but sooner or later you settled on a path that led you into some type of education or training, then a job, and eventually a career. For most of us that plan included finding that special someone, getting married, having kids, and creating your own unique set of memories. Certainly none of us expected that life would always go as planned, but we were fairly confident that we knew where we were heading, who we were heading there with, and how we might get there. It was a good plan and one that we hoped would bring us both fulfillment and peace.

But then life happened! Everything seemed to being going “right” when suddenly things took a “left turn”. Out of nowhere the unexpected happened – the car engine blew up, someone you love died, you lost your job, you experienced the heartbreak of a miscarriage, you were accused of something you didn’t do, you made a huge financial mistake, an injury or illness put you on the sidelines, or conflict arose all around you that was beyond your control. Life was going so well, so smoothly, so regularly…….but then everything changed….at least for a little while. You were forced to deal with the “left turn”, the unexpected challenge, the unfortunate incident, the draining experience, the chaos of confusion, the brokenness of reality.

In driver’s education we had to learn how to navigate left turns, and not just the ones protected by a stoplight. We had to develop the skill to cross oncoming traffic, like pulling out of a parking lot, and merging safely into the direction we needed to head. Yes, we had to proceed with “extreme caution”, but it was something we all had to master to pass the course.

In these days I’m sensing that’s a skill I’m still trying to learn, at least when it comes to navigating the “left turns” of life. By this age I thought I’d have this skill down enabling me to better expect the unexpected, navigate the troubled waters, remain calm in the midst of conflict, and stay positive when it seems chaos is going on all around me. But more and more I realize how much I still have to learn. I’m surprised by how often these “left turns” throw me off balance; how unhappy I am with my responses to such developments; how disappointed I get with myself for not navigating the situation better. I understand I will never get to place where I handle every turn in life perfectly, but I just thought I might be better at it by now!

I’m convinced God allows these “harrowing” experiences in our lives to help us stay broken before Him. As someone once said, “a broken vessel can’t hold very much so it has to say in close contact the source”. It’s far too easy for most of us to think we have everything under control. We know who we are, where we’re heading, and how to get there. In fact, it’s tempting to think we can handle life with or without God, even if we are dedicated believers. It’s not that we’re purposely leaving Him out of our lives, but rather just relegating Him to an “advisory capacity”. We seek His blessing, try to live according to His principles, treat people in accordance with the Golden Rule, and faithfully serve the community we live in. But, let’s be honest, we can probably do all those things with or without God’s intervention in our lives.

It’s usually only when things go haywire, when life takes that unexpected “left turn”, when we have to make those difficult decisions in the midst of tremendous “cross traffic” that we sincerely realize we are not in as much command of things going on in our life as we thought we were. The frustration, anxiety, stress, and fear connected with navigating those situations remind us that we truly do need God to take control. When life sends us into an unexpected left turn we all tend to cry “JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL” just like Carrie Underwood.

I certainly don’t know your situation or what lies around the corner in your life or in mine. But this much I’m sure of — there are more “left turns” coming. Honestly, that doesn’t bless me!! My prayer for us all is that we will be better prepared to expect the unexpected. We must do our best to learn life’s lessons and be ready for those moments when we will need to cross traffic and merge into the direction God is leading us. It may be a bit “harrowing”, but I take encouragement from knowing that I’ve actually learned how to safely turn left while driving, so I know I can be taught! Who would have thought my driver’s education teacher gave me such an irrefutable life principle — left turn ahead, “PROCEED WITH EXTREME CAUTION”.

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