Student Driver

green leafed trees
Photo by Drew Rae on

“You’re a little close on the right.” I try to make my voice sound calm and nonchalant while I instinctively hold on to the car door for dear life and brace myself for impact.

“Watch that guy on the bicycle up ahead,” I say as though I’m pointing out an interesting bird or rock formation. Really I am praying for that poor cyclist who has no idea a student driver is barreling down the road towards him.

One thing I’ve observed as I teach my daughter how to drive is that the student driver is often smugly certain that they already know everything you’re teaching them. This can be a teeny tiny bit frustrating.

“You’re a little close on the–”

“I know.”

“Look out for that–”

“I see it.”

It really is blackbelt level parenting, teaching someone how to drive. You’ve been through potty training, toddler tantrums, the narcissistic middle school years. You’ve developed patience and a thick skin. All of that training has led to this pinnacle parenting achievement: teaching your teen to drive.

Basically it’s a lot like potty training, except every time your child has an “accident” someone could die.

Mostly our driving lessons have been going fine–no wrecks, no yelling, or major meltdowns. My daughter has been extremely cautious and careful. I have been pleasantly surprised by how well we are both doing. But it is still exciting each time we go for a drive because it really does feel like anything could happen. I’m trying to embrace that feeling and just go with it.

One of the hardest things about teaching my daughter to drive has been trying to help her feel when she’s in the center of the lane. Because, I mean, have you ever thought about this? You are not in the center of the car when you’re driving! Yet, you have to drive the car down the center of the lane. It is a miracle any of us can do this ever.

The other day I googled “how to teach someone to stay in the center of the lane” and found some helpful videos. One guy on YouTube gave some advice that I’d never heard before. He said that to stay centered all you have to do is look at the center of the lane several cars ahead. Because, according to this guy and a few other videos I watched, your car will magically go wherever you look.

So if you are looking at the yellow line on the left, you will drive towards it. If you’re looking at the guy on the bike, Lord help him, you will drive towards the guy on the bike. According to the YouTube videos, you want to be scanning constantly in front of you, taking in what’s around you as you drive, but mostly you need to look a few cars ahead of you in the center of the lane.

Because I love a metaphor, I couldn’t help but think about how this advice applies not just to driving, but to life.

I will go where I am looking. So where do I want to go? And am I looking in the right place in order to get there?

What always gets me in trouble–in driving and in life–is when I start looking next to me. What are other people doing? Is that what I’m supposed to be doing too? Maybe I should be more like them? When I start comparing myself to other people. That’s when I start swerving big time.

I have noticed that looking at social media causes me to veer out of my proverbial lane. I wish that weren’t true because I love staying connected to people through Facebook and Instagram, but for me it is the equivalent of looking sideways when I need to keep my eyes straight ahead.

So if I’m not looking at what other people are doing, then what do I look at?

Lately the phrase “wonderfully made” keeps going through my head. As in the verse: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” I missed a few weeks of church in a row recently because I was out of town, and I noticed such a difference in my thinking. When I don’t get that weekly dose of God, being in community, and hearing an inspiring sermon, my mind starts to spin little stories about who I am. That I’m not good enough, that I need to prove myself, that I should be doing more to show others how worthy I am, how important I am, that I should be ashamed of this thing I said or didn’t say. At church I’m reminded that none of that is the truth. I remember I am a child of God and loved unconditionally. That I was put here for a purpose and that purpose was decided when I was still being knit together.

When I ask myself the question, “Where do I want to go?” The answer I ultimately get to (after a lot of wrong answers) is this: I want to be the person God had in mind when he created me.

The same God who made the universe and everything in it made me. He was there at the beginning and he is here with us now. He has the full picture. I imagine that from his perspective, I am a dot on the GPS screen, constantly moving toward something. I can’t feel myself moving, but I am moving toward a destination, a destiny. Maybe I’m headed toward a dead end that will cause me to have to turn around and go a different way. When I’m stuck, I just need to check in with God and ask him what his GPS says. He sees my part in a much bigger story.

I bought a “student driver” magnet for my car. I keep it on all the time, not just when my daughter is driving. For one thing, I think it makes people more forgiving of my overly cautious, old lady driving tendencies. But I also think the sticker is a good reminder that I’m still learning.

Like a student driver, I can be smugly certain that I have it all figured out and don’t have anything to learn. I forget to look up. I get lost and go in circles–at best. At worst, I run right into walls. It’s okay. I now know everyone does this. Everyone is a student driver. But here’s the good news. When we veer into the wrong lane or end up somewhere we don’t want to be, we can look up, say a prayer, and ask for directions. We can remember this centering truth: we are wonderfully made and loved beyond anything we can comprehend.

And because we are student drivers, we might forget all of this sometimes. I know you think you won’t, but you will. But that’s okay. When we remember, we can put our blinker on and try again.

And again.

And again.