Every work morning I drive along the Southern Outlet to get in to work. It’s about ten kilometers of dual lane highway through the bush that separates Kingston from Hobart. There’s a slow rise up to Mt Nelson and then I take a left and drop steeply down Proctor’s Rd to the university.
Now Tasmania is known for its ‘peak minute’ traffic. That is, there isn’t usually much of it. Or there didn’t used to be. But just lately the traffic is building up, and people have been known to get stuck in traffic for upwards of an hour. If you live in a big city you will be sniggering down your sleeve at us but for us little Taswegians the build in traffic is a huge culture shock. I mean, we live in a place where you can get from one side of the city to the other in about ten minutes on a normal day, it shouldn’t take anywhere near as long as it’s taking lately.
Sometimes on the outlet there is an accident. Or a crash as we are being told to call them now. (Accidents are accidental where crashes are caused by careless driving). When an accident happens the traffic grinds to a halt. The whole 10 km can be full of cars crawling to their destination. Or at least up to the accident site the traffic will be crawling and then after everyone has had their gander at what has happened, the traffic flows freely again, immediately. You can accelerate from 20 km/h to 100 km/h as soon as you’ve passed the car that is sitting at the side of the road with the dent in the front.
It amazes me! There’s no longer any block, nothing to drive around, nothing to be careful of, but still we can’t speed up until we’ve passed the site where the accident happened, two hours ago.
So when the traffic grinds to a halt like it did when I was driving to work this morning, I wait to see the reason why, so that we could get past it and move on, back to normal speed. But this morning, it was a different story.
We crawled along at 20 km/h for a few minutes and then suddenly for no reason we sped up again. We drove along at a reasonable speed, nearly got to the speed limit, and then, suddenly, for no reason, we ground to a halt again. And then after a few minutes we sped up again. There was no reason for the halt, no accident, no nothing.
This is actually a well known phenomenon and you can read about it here, but as I was stuck in this phantom traffic jam this morning (and therefore had time to think) I thought about how much the traffic was like life.
You can be travelling quite happily through life, and then for no apparent reason things can go wrong and all your life goals and dreams grind to a halt. The first thing I think when this happens to me is ‘Why? Why is this happening? What am I doing wrong?’ I inspect my diet, my sleep patterns, my behaviour, everything. I try to figure out the reason behind it all. But maybe sometimes there is no reason.
I’m not saying it’s bad to ask why. Maybe I’m feeling tired all the time because my diet is wrong – too much junk food, too many salicylates, whatever. Maybe I have made some bad choices and I’m reaping the rewards of my behaviour. If I can figure out the why then I can change and things can move smoothly again.
But maybe sometimes there is no why. Sometimes there’s no lesson to learn. Maybe the horrible situation just is. I remember a good friend saying to me at one point, ‘I wish I could figure out what God is trying to teach me right now, then I could learn it and we could get out of this awful place we are in!’ But maybe God was just asking her to hold on through it all.
Jesus talked about this once. He was talking to his disciples about a group of people who had died when a tower fell on them. He asked, ‘Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!’ You can’t tell what’s going on inside a person from what it looks like on the outside. There isn’t always an obvious reason for everything.
Maybe there are things in life that we will only understand when we get to heaven. Maybe in heaven we will be so busy adoring God that we won’t need to know the answers anymore. Maybe that’s fine just the way it is. Maybe we just need to hold on, accept what’s happening, try to keep grinding our way forward and hope that the traffic will clear eventually.
I’m not saying that it’s fun. I’m not at all saying that you should force your face into a cheerful smile and tell everyone that you are blessed regardless. Sometimes a bit of gratitude helps the way go faster, but sometimes the mud we’re wading through is just too thick and heavy for that. All I’m saying is that the traffic this morning made me think that sometimes there is no reason, but if we hold on, we might just start moving again.
May you have hope wherever you are in the traffic of life.