I was suddenly shaken out of my daydream because of the sound of sirens ringing in the distance. As I looked in my rear view mirror, a police car was quickly approaching behind me. Any moment now, I thought, the police car would pass me and catch the culprit they were in pursuit of. Needless to say, I was surprised when, as the police car got closer to me, it did not change lanes to pass me. A few seconds later, I was shocked to discover that the culprit the police were in pursuit of was me!
I pulled over to the shoulder not knowing exactly what was going on. Was I speeding, I thought to myself? I didn’t think so. Did I run a red light? Not that I remember. Feeling confused and somewhat afraid I rolled down my window to greet the officer that was approaching my car.
“Good morning,” I said.
“Good morning,” the officer echoed back, without a smile or a hint of sincerity. “Do you know what the speed limit is sir?”
“65?” I said, somewhat unsure.
“It’s 55,” she said. “Do you know how fast you were driving?”
“60?” I said.
“I clocked you at 77.”
“77!” I said in astonishment. “Are you sure?”
“These machines don’t lie, sir. I’ll be right back,” she said.
As she went back to her police car, I sat there confused and a bit alarmed that I was driving so fast without even being aware of it. After a few minutes, I was beginning to wonder what was taking her so long. This was the first time I had been pulled over and therefore could not fathom what she was doing. I looked in my mirror and saw her writing and on the phone. Finally, she got out and approached my car.
“You were driving 22 miles over the speed limit sir. Here is your ticket. Your fine will be $300 and you will receive six points on your driving record. Please slow down,” she said, all without a smile.
As I returned to the friary later that day, my body was tense and my heart was troubled. What bothered me most was not getting a speeding ticket, but that I was completely unaware that I was engaging in something that was potentially dangerous, not only for me but for others as well. This police officer, in a strange and rather expensive way, was a messenger from God, reminding me to wake up and start paying attention, before I or somebody else gets hurt due to my lack of attention.
The New Testament is filled with similar admonitions. “Stay awake,” Jesus warns us, “for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Mt 24:42). St. Paul warns the Thessalonians, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake” (1 Thessalonians 5:6), while Jesus utters these sobering words in the Book of Revelation, “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake” (Revelation 16:15).
What exactly is the New Testament exhorting us to wake up from? Essentially it is any life or any part of our life, that does not have God at its center. Those of us who consider ourselves fairly devout people can easily assume that this does not apply to us. After all, we might conclude, I pray every day, I’m involved in ministry and I am living a moral life. I am awake!, we believe. Without even realizing it, certain aspects of our Christian life can be operating more upon our own strength, intelligence, and creativity, than actual dependence on God.
An important question we all must honestly ask ourselves is, is God really at the center of our lives? Unfortunately, one of the only ways we can discern this is through trials. What are we like when prayer is dry? Do we give up because God doesn’t seem to be entertaining us and filling us with consolation? What is our response to sickness or some form of bodily weakness? Do we get mad at God for interrupting the hopes and plans we made for our life? What is our attitude towards ministry when, on a human level, it appears to be failing? Do we lose heart and consider giving up because something is not working the way we imagined?
Occasionally, people are taken aback when I say that God can use something like sickness, divorce, or bankruptcy as part of our ongoing conversion. Of course, God does not will that we experience any of these directly; rather he uses them often to bring about a greater good, which is essentially our own deeper conversion and growth in holiness. They are often a “wake up” call for many of us: for those who are distracted and driving at a speed that is dangerous, and even for those who aren’t they help us to continue moving ahead with greater clarity and resolve.
Like the Good Shepherd he seeks us out when we go astray, and like a loving Father, he draws us closer even when we remain at his side. Whether these moments produce joy or suffering, God is teaching us that our faith and our trust can only be in him. He will use whatever it takes to get us back on track, refocus, and to reach our destination, where he is already waiting for us.