“Get off the phone while you’re driving, you moron. You’re going to kill somebody!”
“How can you people not have cilantro??? This is Walmart, for God’s sake. Since when does Walmart not carry cilantro?!”
“Seriously? A huge space for the one thing I need. Who is stocking these shelves? Who mis-ordered the cereal this time?”
“Is it too hard to remember to close the toilet lid? Close the *#!^ shower curtain! Seriously?!”
* * *
My list of spiteful thoughts goes on and on and on. I’m usually not shouting these remarks. Most often they emerge as grumbles under my breath or bitter whines. This doesn’t improve them, because the same spite colors them all.
Jesus brought this to my attention about four weeks ago. At that time, road workers were completing the long, undesirable task of resurfacing several miles of four-lane highway that connects my house to the towns where I do all my shopping and family-visiting and church activities. Just a few more days and those big machines and detours would all be gone, and we who must drive this stretch of road would have a new, bump-free ride to the grocery store. Awesome.
But on that particular Tuesday, my grace for folks was in desperately short supply. I didn’t even have the excuse of being hormonal. I know my cycle, and this didn’t count. Little things added up throughout the day. That complaint above about cilantro? Yeah, it really happened on that Tuesday. I had a recipe that called for cilantro, but I would have to do without, which felt, at the time, like a huge injustice. Petty, right? I paid out of the grocery store and thought, “Ah, the worst is behind me. I’m headed home. I can relax.” I forgot about the road construction, the single line of crawling cars, the big machines swinging terrifyingly close to our tin-can vehicles.
I made it to the stoplight where I turn to finally get home. I have to turn right, but it’s the right turn lane that is blocked off, so I have to do that which is illegal in most instances and turn right from the middle lane. Okay, fine, I can do this. But a huge tar-laying truck pulls up beside me in that right lane. He’s waiting for the light to turn green, too. I’m thinking, “No way. Tell me you’re not going to block all of us from turning.” I pray, “God, help me. Don’t let me lose it here. It’s no big deal. I really need your help here.”
The light turns green, I start to drive around the truck (because the light says go and there’s no guy with a sign waving us to stop or obey the light. Well, that tar guy is way bigger than I am. I hit the break, and he proceeds to fill the entire intersection with his tar-spraying machine. How many green-red lights are we supposed to sit through until someone comes to direct us to go or stay? I’m first in line. I have to make the call for every driver waiting impatiently behind me. Do I go or not? I have no idea what to do.
This was the last straw. Even though I was fervently, desperately praying only seconds before, my top blows. I start cussing and ranting and raving at this guy (from inside my car, of course, where he can’t hear me), and as soon as he backs up enough to let me squeeze through the lanes, I gun it, honk my horn, fishtail it around his front fender, nearly hit the car waiting in the east-bound turn lane, and make a complete idiot of myself.
I relive this incident, posting it forever in a public place, because it shook me up. It deeply disturbed me. And it provided the catalyst for a beautiful life lesson. I think God orchestrated this encounter so I could clearly see something ugly inside myself. He and I talked about this moment over and over during the following week. “What is this thing?” I asked him. “How can I be so violently ugly inside?”
A few days later I happened to be driving somewhere on that same road (now completely resurfaced and no tar trucks in sight), and again I was talking it out with God. His response this time rang quite clear. “Spiteful thoughts,” he said.
I cannot explain the relief I felt as soon as this thing had a name. It was like a light coming on in a dark room. Ever since that moment, I have felt equipped to deal with it, recognize it, give it over to God when this beast starts to surface. Case in point:
I was driving home (note the common trigger here) from the chiropractor’s office last week after having an amazing massage. I was driving five miles under the speed limit (no one behind me, thank goodness. I would’ve sped, I swear!) with a stupid grin on my face because I was so relaxed and tenderized. Before I had driven two measly miles, I encountered a driver who was swerving on the narrow two-lane, no-shoulder road. They were clearly texting or putting on lipstick or or cleaning up a spill or something equally dangerous. And what happens? Under my breath, I say, “You idiot. Put the *#^! phone down. Drive already.”
ZAP goes the gentle lightning bolt right down my middle. Stop and listen! There is it! Rearing up its brutal little head. How easily they start, those spiteful thoughts. How fast they escalate into hateful attitudes, temper tantrums, ruined hours of a perfectly good day. “God, I’m so sorry,” I prayed. “Thank you for showing this to me. Cleanse me of this. How gentle and merciful you are in your lessons. Thank you for loving me enough to grow me and change me into who I am meant to be.” I’m pretty sure I also lifted that other driver in prayer, a prayer for protection over them and whoever they encounter on the road.
If I am to be ever more transformed into the likeness of Christ, well, spiteful thoughts simply won’t do. I am thrilled to be working with God on this. How he loves me. Despite my ugly bits. The beauty is in there, waiting to be uncovered, like a tarnished silver vase.