One morning when I was in eleventh grade, I was walking through the school parking lot with Jamie Walker when all of sudden, I saw a big, black Buick Regal come around the corner. It was headed straight for me.
I put my hands in front of me and said, “No, no, no!” but it was too late. The front of the car caught my legs, swept me up, and flipped me over the hood. I landed on my back on the pavement, and a group of students and teachers swarmed around me asking if I was okay.
I tried to get up, but I almost passed out; and the school ended up calling an ambulance to take me to Forrest General Hospital, where my youth pastor showed up and delivered the news that, according to some of my classmates, I had died on impact.
The doctor told me I was lucky I only got a bad case of whiplash; and then he discharged me and told me to go home and rest.
No way, I thought, I’m getting as much mileage out of this as possible. I haven’t gotten this much attention since I put my face in Marie Pickett’s birthday cake in fourth grade.
Despite the fact that I was starting to feel sore, I told my mom I felt fine and drove to high school, where people pretended to crash into me in the hallway and repeatedly asked if I was okay. I loved every minute of it – even the moment when, later that day, I nearly passed out in Mrs. Hinton’s biology class and had to lie down until my mom could come get me.
Within a week, my run-in with the Buick began to fade from the conversation, and other than a staged hit-and-run photo for the yearbook, I was just a normal student again. I was disappointed. I needed something to make me important again.
Clinging to the Buick
It’s interesting how much we find identities in our dramas, even as adults. We still find ourselves retelling the story of that time our boss treated us unjustly. We look for new audiences who will listen to us relive the harrowing tale – one more time – about our old church. We talk to random people about how our teenager got in trouble again.
Sometimes we frame these stories as prayer requests or a need to vent; or we act like it’s so special that we’re finally opening up and sharing our painful memory (even though we’ve actually been telling the world about our woes for years). And here’s the reason we often do it: because everyone loves a victim, and there’s not a cheaper or faster way to find significance than being victimized.
Yes, there’s a value in processing our emotional baggage; but when we find ourselves wanting to do that, we should ask ourselves why. Are we verbally reliving the memory so we can renew our status as a victim; or are we looking to grow past it? Are we asking for attention or asking the other person to join us in believing God for complete healing?
These are questions only God can answer, because we’re usually too self-deceiving to admit the truth to ourselves. So if we find ourselves retelling old stories in which we are the victim, we should consider praying the words of Psalm 139:23-24:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.
It’s not our fault when the big black Buicks of life run us over. But as we move forward and find ourselves telling others about it, let’s be careful to keep our hearts submitted to the Lord, making sure that we only find our significance in Him. Otherwise, we run the risk of idolizing the pain we’ve been through.