We are a month into the season of Lent.  In much of the Christian tradition, Lent is the time in the church year when the believer prepares for the commemoration of Christ’s suffering and death.  It is a period of self-examination, repentance, and self-denial.  The site Churchyear.net describes Lent as “a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him.”  Until I joined a Lutheran church a decade ago, I had never engaged in the practice of giving something up for Lent, but now I do so regularly.  This year what I’ve given up is speeding.

I am in the habit of driving five miles per hour above the speed limit; the 5 mph may become 10 when I’m in a hurry (and I’m often in a hurry).  I usually have more to do than time to get it done, so I cut things close, not leaving for my next destination until the last minute.  Not only do I drive above the speed limit, but I also have a sense of urgency behind the wheel, which translates easily into frustration with those whose pace is more leisurely.  It’s been said (the quote is attributed to Bill McGlashen) that “Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you, but not in one ahead.”   I seldom am appreciative of the patience manifest ahead of me in the left lane of Ramsey Street when I’m trying to rush to an afternoon counseling appointment.  I don’t like the annoyance that I experience in such situations; there’s too much self-importance to thinking that others should keep to a certain velocity just so that I can quickly get where I’m going.

Giving up speeding as I drive represents what I hope will be a broader surrender: a surrender of my habit of living life in a rush, always trying to cram more things in.  Whatever sense of accomplishment I get from living that way is outweighed by the tendency for such a life to sap me of contentment.  Living this way is also contrary to living reflectively and deliberately.  Always hurrying means living life on the surface, never confronting deeper meanings. The longshoreman/philosopher Eric Hoffer analyzed the disadvantages of our American tendency to live life on the run as follows: “The superficiality of the American is the result of his hustling. . . .  People in a hurry cannot think, cannot grow, nor can they decay.  They are preserved in a state of perpetual puerility.”

So, how have I been doing at driving within the limits?  The speed limit on Rosehill Road and Stacy Weaver Drive, both of which I traverse on my way to work, is 35 mph.   When the road ahead of me is empty and my mind is focused on the work that awaits me, driving 35 seems agonizingly slow.  For the first several days of Lent, I was tense as I drove this route; some days I still am.  I’ve gotten somewhat better at relaxing, though.  My speed easily creeps above the speed limit; in response, I’ve monitored how fast I’m driving much more closely.  Such attention reminds me constantly of the reason why I’m driving slowly, which in turn reminds me both of my Lenten commitment and of the disadvantages of always rushing.

Driving 35

For these few weeks, I have seldom found myself behind a vehicle that I think is going too slowly (I still am displeased by lengthy waits for school busses and garbage trucks).  My attention has largely shifted from those ahead of me on the road to those behind me.  I’ve been tailgated more in the last month than I can ever remember.  This hasn’t bothered me; I understand the frustration that other drivers must feel.  I don’t regret not speeding, but I try to be courteous by trying to keep my pace right at the speed limit, not dropping below it.  That’s much harder to do than I realized!

So, will my Lenten discipline result in a permanent change in my driving habits?  Time will tell.  Regardless of how fast I’ll be driving a month from now, I think I will be more aware when I ignore the speed limit—indeed, I’ll be more aware when I ignore any sort of limit.  I hope I’ll also be more cognizant of when I hurry.  Perhaps I’ll even remind myself of the benefits of going slow, and slacken my pace at least occasionally.