Who is really in control here?
As I was walking across the parking lot toward the grocery store I saw a man pushing a full cart through the doors. It was one of the carts with a little plastic car underneath where your child can sit and pretend to drive as you make your way up and down the aisles. This dad’s toddler sat in the yellow plastic car, his hands firmly on the steering wheel, an intent and responsible expression on his face. He had done a good job steering and they hadn’t run into anything as they made the turns from vegetables to cereal to ice cream.
As the doors swished open and they crossed the walkway into the parking lot, the kid’s mouth opened wide in terror and he started to scream. His dad hadn’t noticed yet. The parking lot was noisy, and he was focused on the cars whizzing by. It occurred to me that the little boy, who had been thinking that he was the one driving the cart, assumed he was still driving. Emerging into the parking lot, seeing the cars coming toward him, he knew he was in over his head, and he was panicking.
Sometimes I look at what’s coming up in my life, and I don’t see a way it can work out. I run all possible scenarios. I prepare for the worst. Time passes, and things work out, somehow. Or they don’t, and then other things happen. That’s life for all of us, isn’t it? Sometimes I feel that I’m driving, in charge, competent, oriented, in control, capable—more than capable. Other times I suspect that my life is a grocery cart and my seat is in the little yellow plastic car underneath with the play steering wheel.
Now comes the trouble with this metaphor that worries me. Is God a kind of cosmic “dad” at the wheel? I used to think that, back in my campus Christian days. I don’t picture it that way any more, but I still sometimes get the feeling that I’m being helped. I don’t have a regular name for the helper.
I’m not saying I don’t have responsibility for my life. I’m not singing “Jesus take the wheel,” as if I were too dumb to navigate, as if my intelligence and experience count for nothing and a heavenly being is in charge. I do think there is part of me that is smarter than the everyday part.
My inner wisdom is hooked up with the Source. Or the “Sauce,“ as a friend from the deep South would pronounce it. In times of confusion, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, overdone, over my head, I feel like that kid panicking as he saw the big cars whizzing by. In the service at First UU in Austin a few weeks ago, singer-songwriter Roy Zimmerman sang a song whose first verse described a frustrated person who said to God “I’m going to have to let you go.” Awakening dawns during the song, and its last line was “I’m going to have to let me go.”
I think that is what I’m talking about. When I’m feeling the big dangerous worrisome things coming toward me, I need to sink my roots deep into the Sauce and let my wisdom drive. Is it mine? Is it a wisdom that belongs to all of us that we can access when we need it? Yes to both questions.
I don’t know if the toddler ever figured out that he wasn’t, in fact, driving the grocery cart. I’m guessing he got to the car safely, that his dad buckled him into his car seat and they drove home together. Maybe he felt he’d just gotten really lucky. Maybe he thought his panic had saved him. Maybe he thought he was just that good a driver. Then again, it’s possible that he got a little taste of the Sauce and nodded off, smiling.
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The Rev. Meg Barnhouse, a UU World online columnist, is senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, Texas, and the author of several books, including Broken Buddha. She is also a humorist and singer-songwriter. (Author’s website.)
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