(No) Left-Foot Braking

driver-traffic-safety-sign-nhe-14295_1000“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  (Deut 6:5-9 NIV)

In tenth grade, in 1983, I won the Drivers Ed award.  Now,  I don’t think I won because I was necessarily the superior driver in our class…I’m pretty sure that it was because of the notebook.

Mr. Harold Jude was our teacher, and much to the disappointment of our young expectations, the greater part of our time wasn’t going to be spent actually driving; rather, it was going to be reading about driving.  Gee, it had looked so fun in junior high when we’d covetously watch the older kids behind the wheel of the student driver car, pulling off the parking lot to go who knows where–we just knew they were going to get cheeseburgers or skip classes or some other awesomeness.  What a shattered illusion!

No, the driving part would come later on—but for right now, our teacher was going to drill us over and over again on the rules of the road.  Part of that process was that Mr. Jude assigned us to do a notebook which would be turned in and graded, and it would count as a significant percentage of our semester.  At the end of each chapter was a long set of questions.  He would make us write the question and then write the answer in our notebook.  Well, Little Miss Perfectionist decided to go the extra mile, typewriting and color-coding my notebook on my old manual Remington typewriter  (a hospital dumpster dive rescue, and yes, you may laugh)…black for the questions, red for the answers.  I wore holes in the typewriter ribbon, but it got me an “A!”

At the time, I thought the notebook was a bit unreasonable.  But, an impatient teenager just wants to cut to the chase and hit the highway!  I realized down the road, however, that he was aiming for something other than eating up my free time with his homework assignment:  he was making sure that when we did actually get out there, those rules would be tattooed on our brains!  (Plus, Mr. Jude being tasked with the hard stuff like helping me not to freak out at sharing the road with coal trucks, parallel parking and the like, Dad would in turn only have to teach me how to drive a standard shift later without stripping the gears out of his little Ford Escort…which is a story for another time.)

Among other rules he drilled into our heads, Mr. Jude repeatedly said, “No left-foot braking.”  Now, I can’t remember whether it’s an actual code in the WV Drivers Manual, but I think the reasoning behind it was that in order to hit the brake, one would have to take the right foot off the gas pedal to engage the brake, thus preventing an accidental engine surge when the car needed to stop.  I can remember a hilarious incident where Mr. Jude had us in a big open field, where the Matewan Town Hall now sits and the Magnolia Fair is held, letting us drive around and round to practice.  One of my classmates which shall remain nameless was at the wheel that day, and she did exactly what he had told us not to do…and when she did, she stomped on the gas pedal instead of the brake and had us in a cloud of dust, barreling toward the river like a runaway train.  Those of us in the back seat knew we were goners.  Since the drivers ed car had dual controls, Mr. Jude stopped the car and cried out, “Now don’t…be…doing…that!”  I laugh every time I remember it, because I still hear it in his understandably rattled voice.  God bless him, he deserved the Drivers Ed award instead of me, just for agreeing to take on our bunch of greenhorns.

It was a hard habit to learn, right foot braking, but all this came to my mind yesterday as I glanced down and noticed that my left foot was tucked back against the car seat—something I had begun doing all those years ago to prevent that foot from creeping up to that brake pedal…just to keep my teacher from scolding me!  In trying to prevent being told I was doing it wrong, I inadvertently began doing it right!  

So what have rules about driving got to do with one’s spiritual life, much less life in general?  It’s actually a pretty good analogy.  If we don’t learn the rules of engagement, we’ll almost certainly try to do the right thing the wrong way.  That’s true whether we’re learning to drive, play an instrument, develop any kind of life skill, and yes, grow to maturity in our Christian walk.  Somewhere along the way, while going over those questions and answers over and over in this notebook assignment, I became a better driver before I was even entrusted with a set of keys.  Interesting, huh?  Going over and over the Scriptures throughout my life has sure helped me live a lot better, too.  Oh that I’d followed them in every situation I’ve encountered!

Sometimes when I read the Bible, particularly the Old Testament when God was setting forth His laws to His children in the wilderness, I marvel that He would even have to tell them (and us) not to do some things.  In fact, some acts seemed to violate common sense even before they hit the sin category…such as God telling us we shouldn’t commit bestiality or murder.  Yet, the Lord has always known that we humans, when left to our own devices, will go and do what defies even common sense.  Romans 1 is a good New Testament example. Was He trying to insult our intelligence when He was so specific about the do’s and don’ts?  Of course not.  He just knew that humankind’s tendency is to let soul override spirit in the decision-making process.  An unsanctified soul will always pair up with its cohort, the unsanctified body, unless the Word is alive in our spirit man and drawing our head knowledge toward the spiritual rather than the carnal.

Sex within marriage?  Not a sin.  Sex outside marriage?  Sin.  Left-foot braking…taking something which is right and going about it all wrong.  The right foot’s still on the gas and the left foot’s trying to hit the brake, and we slam into the guardrail…assuming of course that there even is a guardrail.  The curve may be steep and cliff may be high…if all we get are a few dings and dents and a higher insurance premium, we’ll be getting off easy.  We may wind up, however, with an unplanned pregnancy, jealousy or difficulties in marriage or later relationships, a soul tie with someone we can no longer stand, AIDS or some other dreaded disease.  And worst of all, we’ve just sinned against God and against our own bodies.

That’s just one instance of left-foot braking.  What about our other appetites?  One cookie turns into a whole pack.  A craving for momentary satisfaction turns into a violent addiction.  A few dollars from the cash drawer, with an intent to pay it back, later becomes a regular practice of “borrowing”  followed by a jail sentence for embezzlement.  Why?  Because the flesh will never say, “No” or “Enough.”  The flesh will never say, “Deny yourself” or “Wait” or “Do the right thing.” The flesh-driven soul reasons that although it may have gone terribly wrong for someone else, it won’t happen to you.  You can control it.  You can quit any time you want.  Right?  Wrong.

The truth is, we need a rule book.  We need God’s Word to tell us what to do, how to respond, how to pray…and when we mess up, how to recover.  Personally, I’m glad that God has made life an open Book test, with all the answers where we can freely access them.  When we regularly talk about them, write them, rehearse them, they become ingrained in our thought pattern.  We may have temptations, but when we choose to use our spirit—our right foot if you will—to accelerate and to do the braking too, we’re so much more likely to please our Teacher.  And when we’re trying to do the right thing, grace is that second brake pedal on His side of the car.  He is well able to keep us from falling, or in this case, crashing.  And I’m so thankful that for all the times I’ve failed miserably, not once has He stopped loving me.

Makes me want to get it right…how about you?

©2012 Lisa Crum

2 thoughts on “(No) Left-Foot Braking

  1. I’d never the importance of having some of those rules spelled out until recently. I guess I figured I was smart enough to know the difference between right and wrong. Unfortunately that kind of thinking has caused me more than my share of trouble. I may have been smart but I certainly wasn’t wise. Thank you for an excellent article.

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