I was a newlywed of only a year. My husband and I decided to drive twelve hours to attend a conference which would help us start a business. Tensions were high because we couldn’t afford the trip, and we’d had a few disagreements which left us both feeling hurt and misunderstood. I had been nervous about crashing during the road trip, and he had viewed my fear as a personal jab against his driving skills.
One of the guest speakers who was a professional comedian started to make fun of women who had poor depth perception. He described a scenario to prove his point. “As a man drives,” he said, “the woman at his side will invariably let out a loud GASP and grab hold of part of the car where she sits. This inevitably causes the man to swerve and exclaim, ‘WHAT? WHAT IS IT?’ Her response: ‘The car ahead of us put on their brakes.'” His conclusion: poor depth perception, since the car in front of them was a full quarter-mile ahead.
I had been trying so hard to stay angry at my husband. I did not want him to think I was enjoying myself on the trip at all, for, in my mind he needed to be punished. However, when the comedian told this story, all of my pent-up emotion came bursting forth and I laughed until I cried. I laughed so hard that for some time no noise escaped my lips. Why? Because the comedian had just described ME, during our twelve hour trip to the convention.
My husband and I continued to laugh throughout the rest of the meeting, and our contentious feelings toward one another melted away. We talked about it later, and I defended myself reminding him that I was jittery simply because we had both fallen asleep and driven off the road only a year before. Road travel made me nervous, period. All the way to the function I had been watching the side of the road immediately next to our car to see if we were getting too close to either the shoulder, or the center divider. Any deviation which brought us any nearer to the edge caused instant panic resulting in a gasp and reflexive grabbing of my shoulder strap. Any minor swerving which caused us to close in on another car at our side caused the same reaction. And, yes, if a car even a quarter mile ahead of us put on their brakes, I braced myself for impact.
Even short, local trips on the freeway made me nervous. Rounding a bend was especially frightening, because I’d see the tire and paint marks from cars which had crashed in that place before. I’d say, “Oh boy… this must be a dangerous spot; look at all the crashes that happened here!” Of course, I’d prepare myself for impact, just in case. I’d even look ahead at semi trucks and imagine the horrific wreck which would result if they were to suddenly cut us off.
After many years I finally learned to calm down. I reminded myself that my husband didn’t want to die any more than I did, and he’d be careful with or without my incessant reminders. I practiced trusting him, and trusting in the Lord to keep us safe. I also found a visualization strategy which worked wonders: instead of imagining a possible wreck, I’d close my eyes and picture myself tucking my children in bed that night; a vision which presupposed our safe arrival home. It took me a long time to get my road travel fears under control. Our driving even improved as we learned that we managed to stay nicely in the center of our own lane NOT when the driver looked at the line painted on the road immediately at our side (which resulted in constant adjustments and a jerky ride), but by looking to the horizon where the road was headed. Even if the road followed a long bend, by looking to where it headed, the car seemed to naturally stay beautifully in the center of the lane. I discovered that by looking ahead to what I wanted and where I wanted to be (literally as well as figuratively), I was implementing a powerful method for not just dealing effectively with my fears, but for actually achieving successfully the results I was after. What a wonderful lesson to learn. Until one day when I realized the lessons from this analogy ran even deeper than I realized…
Ten years later I was tested to my limit. I was at the wheel, trying to speed ahead at about seventy miles per hour to pass a semi truck on my right, with no room for error on my left (due to road construction north of Salt Lake City prior to the 2002 Olympics). The lane was three-fourths the width it should be, and there was nowhere for me to go but straight ahead. I noticed that when I looked at the semi by my side, I unknowingly started to close in on it. I only realized my error when I’d look forward again and see how far over I had swerved. I discovered that the only way to make it through would be to look straight ahead, with my white knuckles on the wheel, and intentionally ignore the obstacles at either side. If a vehicle were to accidentally swerve into my lane, with my eyes on the goal I’d be less likely to make a sudden, irrational move which could cause my vehicle to roll and do fatal damage to myself and others around me.
This landmark experience made me think of life in general. I realized that I’m traveling down a fast-paced, sometimes scary road we call mortality, hopefully heading for eternal life with my family in the presence of Father in Heaven, to enjoy the blessings of His greatest rewards. Along this road, there are obstacles which try to take me off course or slow me down by causing a wreck, so to speak. I’ve learned that the only way to proceed in safety is NOT to look at the obstacles and pay them focused attention in an effort to avoid them, because doing so causes me to unknowingly get pulled off the path toward the very obstacle I am trying to evade. Often when I forget and look too long at the danger by my side, I don’t realize how far I’ve deviated until I finally look back toward my goal. I must try to always look straight ahead and keep my eyes on the prize. The obstacles will pass, one by one, if I just press forward with full purpose of heart. Should
one swerve into my lane in spite of my efforts to avoid collision, I will be able to respond without overreacting, and keep my very life from rolling out of control.
Sometimes I still get nervous, but I’ve learned how to deal with my fears to some degree. I’ve learned that if I want to stay on the path and enjoy the smoothest ride possible, I must keep my eyes on the horizon. There will be fewer course corrections, and fewer mishaps.
As one man named Alma taught his son, Helaman: “For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass…The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever…Yea, see that ye look to God and live.” (Alma 37:44-47)
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