Sadly, nothing like that actually happened when our tyre burst. I growled something unmentionable, pulled the car over to the side of the road and wrestled with the temptation to invite Kay to change the wheel while I supported her in prayer. When it comes to being practical, I’m useless.
The wheel jack was a six-part contraption that required assembly and was designed by a mad engineer, so I abandoned any possibility of fixing the problem myself and called roadside assistance.
Twenty-seven hours later (actually two, but it felt much longer), a smiling, practical-looking chap arrived, assuring us that he would change the tyre in a jiffy (news that created both envy and gratitude in me). But then he asked if I would assist: ‘Cars are speeding by here, Mr Lucas. You got a flat in a dangerous spot. While I change the wheel, could you help by slowing the traffic down?’
I walked ten yards down the road to try to convince fellow motorists to temporarily limit their speed. This was accomplished by holding both arms out in front of me in the posture of a diver, then waving them down together: I smiled while waving, trying to communicate that my signal was a request, not a command.
The reaction was mixed. Some kindly obliged and put the brakes on. Others seemed bemused by the sight of this strange chap apparently worshipping them from the roadside. But there were those who reacted in the opposite way: they sped up, shook their fists, and some even yelled a few expletives. Apparently, I had committed a cardinal offence. I had asked them to delay their progress by two seconds. The blue touchpaper was lit, igniting phosphorus rage. They were offended.
Some go through life perpetually on the edge of offence. These are picky people who live just beneath their skins, ready to be upset if someone so much as puts a kink in their day. If the meal takes five minutes longer to arrive, if another driver cuts them up, if the sky is sullen grey, their faces turn an angry red.
And it also happens in the Church.
I’ve met Christians who seem to have been offended since birth. One wonders if they got irritated with the midwife, enraged by the slap on the bottom that welcomed them into the world. They go to church to get offended, and even seem frustrated if there’s nothing to be frustrated about. Like bloodhounds, they spend life suspiciously sniffing out potential error or inconsistency.
Gifted at whining, they assume the demeanour of victims, which is ironic, because they engage in bullying manipulation, creating actual victims everywhere they go. The chronically offended go through jobs, churches, friendships and even marriages like knives through butter. The sound of crunching eggshells around them is deafening: people tread carefully, eager not to stir the sleeping giant. It’s surely a miserable existence.
Back on the roadside, I continued my frantic waving. And I learned some valuable life lessons from the experience.
Jesus could have spent his whole life in a perpetual state of offence. He occasionally expressed his frustration at the playacting of the Pharisees, or the slow-witted tendencies of his disciples. But even though he was consistently used, accused and ultimately abused, he stayed calm and in control.
Don’t look for opportunities for irritation.
When they arise – and they inevitably will for all those in possession of a pulse – stay cool.
And if you own a wheel jack, read the instructions right away.