I took Driver’s Ed at King High School. They had a little driving course in the back of the school. A two lane “street” painted on a parking lot with stop signs, yield signs, diagonal parking, and pylons for practicing parallel parking. I could drive that course without a hitch and usually even managed to parallel park without crushing a pylon.
But we never practiced U-turns. So one day after I had passed my exam and had my own brand new driver’s license complete with the requisite peon-home-from-working-the-field picture, I was headed west on Busch Blvd and realized I had passed my turn-off. Time for my first U-turn. I pulled into the left lane and patiently waited for the traffic on the other side to clear. It may have been years ago, but traffic was not kind that day. Those cars were spaced just so that I had to wait far longer than if it were a normal left turn. I knew I needed time to straighten out the car and get back up to 45 mph before any oncoming traffic reached me.
Finally there was a break, just barely big enough for me to maneuver, if I hurried. So I spun that wheel hard to the left and pulled out and hit the gas. My little Mustang made it to the far right lane before completely turning, but almost immediately I was in trouble. I had kept the wheel turned too long. The tires screeched as I crossed back over all three lanes and was headed for the median. Even though I needed to let go of the steering wheel I couldn’t. I had thrown myself nearly into the passenger seat and was hanging on for dear life. Thoroughly panicked, I finally let loose enough for the wheel to slide between my hands and allow the car to straighten. I took my foot off the gas and shifted back into the seat just in time to miss the median and straighten myself out in the left lane. No one and nothing was hurt but my pride. I slunk in the seat as the oncoming traffic caught up and passed me, hoping no one I knew had seen that.
That’s what a lack of experience will do for you. I was old enough to drive. But I had never performed that maneuver before, and had probably never paid enough attention to my parents as they did. “It’s just a longer left turn,” I thought. No, it’s a bit more than that.
U-turns in life can be difficult too. I have seen so many young people completely disillusioned because they thought making those U-turns after their baptism would be a cinch. Now that I’ve turned my life over to God I won’t feel those temptations any more, they think. I will suddenly be a changed person, able to live perfectly from here on in. Once again a lack of experience is showing.
We can be forgiven from our sins, but very often the consequences are still there to live with. That can mean things as difficult as serving jail time or fighting addiction or dealing with people we have hurt physically or emotionally. It can also mean the urges of a besetting sin. You will still have to work on it. You may need to change not just your life, but your schedule and your friends in order to see a difference. The same things that tempted you before will continue to tempt you, and the Devil will try even harder because he thinks he might have lost you. Why work on the ones who are securely under his belt?
Tell your children these things. Tell that neighbor you are trying to convert. If they are not prepared for reality, they may lose hope. But also tell them that now they will have help, help that can strengthen them enough to overcome anything—not necessarily easily, but certainly. Help that understands what you are going through and will bear with you as you learn and grow with experience. You may throw yourself across the highway the first time or two, but eventually you will learn to navigate the roads of life, and those U-turns will become easier to make.
And, if you have been “raised in the church,” you may find that the U-turns you need to make are of a completely different sort. It is all too easy when you have never been involved in what we call “the big bad sins” to look down one’s nose on those who came from that background and judge them unworthy because they still struggle. That is the U-turn you must make: away from a judgmental attitude toward compassion, the same compassion Jesus showed for an adulterous woman, a thieving publican, and a convicted criminal. Your U-turn may be the most difficult of all, but he still expects you to make it.
But [I] declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. Acts 26:20