I always swore I would never own a car.
Growing up in Chicago, I took a vicious pride in riding public transit everywhere — at all hours, in all weathers, through all neighborhoods. I can still name every stop on the Red Line, at least between Wilson and Roosevelt.
I held firm until I got my first real job after college, as a sort of a home visitor for churches. I had a caseload of 75 congregations, scattered over roughly 46,000 square miles. There was no doubt about it: I needed a car.
So I bought this one:
I named it the Jesusmobile (J. Mo for short), because I only used it for work.
Or to get out of town and go hiking.
Or sometimes for groceries, because what reasonable person would carry twenty pounds of cat food home on the bus?
Or when I knew I’d be getting home late.
Or when it was raining.
And before I knew it, the unthinkable had come to pass. In a city with low crime, mild weather, and a transit system among the best in the world, I had become a driving addict. I couldn’t get through the day without the J. Mo. I was hopelessly dependent on my car.
But I NEEDED that car. I needed it for honorable tasks: errands, volunteering, getting the kitty to the vet. I used it to get to Scout meetings and Bible study. Giving it up would mean giving up all those things. Like so many Americans, I needed to drive in order to live a normal adult life.
One recent evening while I was stuck in traffic, I ticked off a list on my fingers.
Work? I have a different job now; my office is four miles from my house. It’s an easy walk and an even easier bike ride. If I really get lazy, I can take the bus.
Church? It’s an hour on the light rail, but I love riding the light rail. All I have to do is sit there and read.
And groceries? Here’s the truth about groceries: I hate buying them. I make my fiancee do it. I haven’t actually gone grocery shopping in more than two years.
I won’t bore you with the rest of the list. By the time I arrived at my destination (another church board meeting) in my usual fashion — which is to say surly, disheveled, and ten minutes late — I had realized the truth.
There are plenty of perks to driving. The J-Mo makes my life easier and more comfortable. I can go all kinds of places much more quickly than I would be able to otherwise.
But is this really what I wanted? An easy, comfortable life?
Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness, at the mercy of the elements, battling hunger, temptation, and boredom. Time must have stood still for him then, each moment dragging on longer than the last.
Each morning, I take a long hot shower, enjoy a nice breakfast, and hop into a mobile cell with cushioned seats and perfect climate control. I turn on some music to keep myself entertained, and I get where I’m going as quickly as possible.
And every year, with a straight face, I say that I’m observing Lent.
I’m always wary of people who announce that God is “calling” them to action, but in this instance, God’s message to me seemed fairly clear.
It made too much sense to ignore. Lent is a season for slowing down. If we so choose, we can lay aside our idols of comfort and convenience. We can gently peel away the layers of distraction that separate us from the holy.
We can follow Jesus into the desert. Not all the way. Just an inch or two further than we’ve gone before.
Make no mistake: Every day, I light dozens of candles at the shrine of comfort. Even during Lent. This season, I’m not giving up hot showers or my nightly dish of ice cream. But I’m taking a little break from driving.
I’m working hard to slow things down.
To take my time going places.
To live with discomfort.
To walk a few steps into the desert.
And, just maybe, to catch a glimpse of Jesus. I understand he’s in there too.