Our first date should have tipped us off: Steve and I definitely had driving compatibility issues.
When the shy, sweet guy of my dreams forgot to release the parking brake, I figured he was suffering from nerves. But when he ran a stop sign, I felt a little nervous, especially since I'd totaled my father's car not long before. When Steve ran another, I clung discreetly to the door handle as if it were my salvation. When he ran the third, I let out a polite, "Aaaaahhhhh!"
How did we agree to a second date? Love covered a multitude of driving sins, especially since Steve relaxed and reverted to his usual A-in-driver's-ed self. (He didn't know my driving teacher had predicted my demise within 10 years.)
Steve offered to chauffeur me everywhere. Fine by me. Two major accidents had resulted in record insurance rates that revoked my wheels.
Four years later, however, my now-fiancé insisted I learn to drive again. I proudly obtained my license and knew we'd drive together happily ever after.
Sometimes the conflicts started before the car did.
Keeping the Record Straight
Fresh from college culture, neither of us minded papers, books, or French fries piled on the floor. But our differing windshield-cleaning traditions bordered on theological importance because of our January wedding. Steve removed every snowflake as if it were a sin, sanctifying not only the front, but back and side windows. I swiped a brush across the front windshield, then zoomed off in my mobile igloo, trusting God's protection.
The gasoline gauge also provoked lengthy discussions. I'd always fueled two gallons at a time so my moocher siblings wouldn't gobble up my gas.
My new husband didn't appreciate this strategy. "Fill it up!"
I discovered Steve, a.k.a. the Driver, also expected his wife to play Chief Navigator. I possess no sense of direction—my family sort of enjoyed getting lost—but I did my best.
"How far is the next exit?" he'd ask.
"I'm not quite sure." I rustled the map to sound like I knew what I was doing.
"The next town south?"
"You've got the map upside down!" He nearly swerved off the road. "North is at the top!"
"Maybe God says that in the Bible?" I crossed my arms.
Our "truth in love" sessions intensified when I took over the wheel, especially when a polite driver wanted to yield the right of way at an intersection.
"It's not your turn," Steve advised as I edged forward.
"She's waving me on." My hackles arose.
"You're breaking traffic rules! Other drivers won't know what you're doing!"
"They don't stress about it. I don't, either." I glared at him.
My husband recited the Lord's Prayer aloud as he pulled out his insurance card to check our deductible.
When my speed crept up on highways, Steve pointed out that he never exceeded posted limits. I reminded him, however, of his chronic lead foot within the city. We exercised lots of Christian concern in keeping the record straight.
What prevented our car—and our marriage—from crashing?
In a word, God.
In another word, children.
God worked through them to keep us—and poor, naive drivers around us—alive.
At first, three kids only amplified car chaos with potty stops, ice cream cone meltdowns, and backseat Cheerio wars. Unsolicited advice from our offspring fueled the flames of controversy.
"Daddy, how fast are you going?"
"Mommy, are you sure you put gas in the tank?" (Our kindergartener never forgave me for running out as I took him to school.)
Worse, my husband, who suffered from chronic carsickness, turned green just checking over his shoulder to change lanes. Of course, he abdicated all backseat kid duties. I often plotted to escape at the next stop and hitchhike alone. To Africa.
Our family trips finally forced us to face facts. We could (1) continue the power struggle, with resulting danger to life, limb, and our current "lemon"; (2) put on our walking shoes; or (3) function as allies, not aliens.
The kids helped us act like grown-ups. There's nothing like two siblings conspiring to toss a third out a car window to make parents forget who didn't readjust the seat. Plus, we realized our children would reflect our in-car habits during their teen years (gulp!). A final scary thought: If we didn't clean up our driving act, one day they might take away our car keys. When we turned 40.
My husband learned to give up sole control and appreciate a break in the passenger's seat. Steve couldn't turn around to handle backseat intrigues, but fortunately, God designed him with a deep voice and long, long arms.
As I ducked NASCAR wannabes and prayed my way through construction zone labyrinths, I gave thanks for Steve's nerves of steel. I also discovered that while getting lost without kids seemed fun, getting lost with kids was not. I learned to read maps.
Centuries ago, when the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, he never drove a mile imprisoned with a spouse and children inside a minivan. He did, however, deal with 24/7 incarceration chained to a Roman soldier. Yet he urged Christians to follow his example and "be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32, NLT).
Steve and I keep that pedestrian's advice in mind as we learn to complement each other in the car. When we approach kamikaze city interstates, Steve takes over before I hit the floor. When long, flat highways anesthetize my husband, I (wide awake!), relieve him. In the past we debated who drove how much, when, and why. Now we simply switch drivers when necessary.
After 35 years of marriage, we haven't killed each other (or anybody else). By special miracles of God's grace, Steve and I have even grown to enjoy riding together.
And if a couple of crazies like us can do it, anyone can.
Rachael Phillips is a Marriage Partnership regular contributor.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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