It was definitely a dilemma. Forty or fifty cars pouring out of a church parking lot and being stopped on a side street, a court where the only exit was blocked by trucks, bulldozers, and a construction crew. Other than retreating back into the parking lot, and that opportunity quickly closed, there was nowhere to go, no way to escape. And there did not appear to be anyone managing the site, certainly not anyone who had a clue how to maintain a flow of traffic. So we sat.
We had an hour-long lunch break in the middle of a packed conference schedule, and every single one of us in those vehicles was anxious to get to a nearby restaurant, eat, and return to the church before the next session began. That plan was being effectively foiled by the machines working diligently away on the road and the crew members wandering around, one of them holding up a sign that said slow and one holding up a sign that said stop, both facing the same direction. Not a single workman appeared to be aware, or at least the tiniest bit concerned, that traffic had been sitting there for at least twenty minutes.
If others were like me, impatience was growing. Impatience, frustration, incomprehension at the mind-boggling incompetence of the work crew, and a rising anger, helped along by hunger pangs and the relentless numbers changing on the digital clock on the dashboard.
But here lay the dilemma. Under normal conditions, it would have been incredibly tempting to lay on the horn, or to roll down the window and call out a strongly-worded question or opinion to a passing workman on the state of affairs and about when, if ever, traffic might be allowed to move again.
The problem was, these weren’t normal circumstances. We weren’t in the middle of a highway surrounded by strangers who had no idea what our values or beliefs might be. We were all part of a long line-up of cars spilling out of the parking lot of a building with a massive cross on the roof that towered over the entire neighbourhood. There was no mistaking who we were, what we stood for, or who we claimed to follow.
We are called to be salt and light in a dark world. Our words and actions are meant to set us apart, to be a witness and a testimony to those around us, and to glorify the God we worship. I can’t speak for the occupants of the other vehicles, but the temptation to do or say something that did not fit into any of the above categories was strong in those moments.
Through the grace of God, we all managed to rein in that sinful human nature. No one honked. No one yelled and, eventually, we were all allowed to exit the court in a slow, painful trickle, wolf down our lunches, and return in time (more or less) for the session.
Of course, there was a lot of pressure in that situation to maintain our witness. The people in the cars behind us and before us—miles behind and miles before—were the people we had just been sitting with in the sanctuary of that beautiful church, and would be again that afternoon. That was powerful motivation not to lose it on the heads of that construction crew, which helped to keep me, and the others in that long line of vehicles snaking out of the church parking lot, in control of ourselves.
But it got me thinking. If circumstances had been different, would I have maintained that same self-control? Actually, it didn’t take me long to answer that. I have been in similar circumstances before, without the visible crowd of witnesses, and have not done quite as good a job at maintaining my testimony. The incident this week reminded me that I absolutely should. Because of course, even if no one else is watching, God is privy to all I do, say, and think. And if I am motivated to control myself when surrounded by human witnesses, how much more should I do so in the presence of God?
I hope we were all salt and light that day. I’m pretty sure the work crew had to notice that no one gave them a hard time, in spite of the ridiculousness of the long, unnecessary wait. I pray some of them glanced over to see the building we were exiting out of and pondered the possibility that those two things were somehow connected. And I pray that the next time I find myself in a situation like that, I will “conduct myself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”, as Paul exhorted in Philippians 1:27, whether there are hundreds of witnesses around me at the time, or only one.
Press on, my friends.