Driving down I-240 with Top 40 radio set to a dull roar has never been my ideal time for reflection or an experience ripe with opportunities to learn how to better show love to others. I usually keep the windows rolled down, the radio up high, and my thoughts on mute—using the highway only as a necessary means to a more purposeful end. But this summer I have found myself sitting in a lot of 240 traffic—on the way to and from the office or leading groups to and from worksites—consequently with loads of time to think.
In the midst of bobbing and weaving around tourist traffic, and trying to master the skillful art of down shifting on a manual transmission in the mountains of western North Carolina, I have found myself turning down the radio and rolling up the windows— silencing out the noise—to pray.
I cannot express in words how terribly shocking and uncomfortable this development is for me. I don’t dislike prayer—in fact I often find being in the presence of prayer to be one of the most powerful evidences of the Holy Spirit moving through our world, but I don’t pray. I don’t pray by myself or in front of other people. In ministerial work there are times I have led prayer and prayed in groups with and in front of others, but those moments have always felt disingenuous and laden with self-conscious thoughts: “What if I forget a prayer request? Or get my words tangled? Or forget to say ‘in Jesus’ name’ at the end?”
In those moments my focus was rarely on what I was actually saying, who I was praying for, or whatever Divine power I was appealing to. Instead, I placed my own fears and insecurities at the center of this deeply spiritual and communal act.
But this summer, driving down 240, my prayer life and my own understanding of how I am constantly short-changing my faith by feeding my fears have been transformed. I now cherish my commute as a time to openly, messily, and freely talk to God, to lift up my fears, my hopes and passions, my family, my co-workers, and the friends and connections I’m making in Asheville this summer.
What I am learning on the road as the summer continues to unfold is that God’s loving presence has no bounds. Divine love is not confined to our pre-meditated interactions with others during ministerial and mission work. No matter how detailed a service schedule, we cannot plan to encounter God’s presence. I am finding, with a stubborn mind and humbling heart, that God’s presence is waiting, everywhere, for our open hearts to meet his love in the world. Whether I choose to see that love in a new friend I meet at Hinds Feet Farm while tie-dying t-shirts, at Manna Food Bank while bagging pasta, or in the car on a busy highway in the middle of the summer heat: no matter where I am, God is also there to embrace my fears with overwhelming, and always abiding, love.