What is it about sitting in a vehicle that drives people to behave in ways they'd never act outside of one?
And why are some people so easily enraged they will go so far as to put their lives in danger to prove how livid they are?
A friend recently experienced extreme road rage, twice. In the first incident, she was driving her pickup on a busy four-lane street, on her way to pick up her preschooler. Needing to change lanes, she flipped on her turn signal, checked her mirrors and glanced over her shoulder. Then she transitioned into the left-hand lane. Suddenly, a man on a motorcycle appeared next to her, driving in the right of way, screaming at her closed driver-side window.
Realizing she must have somehow cut him off, she raised her hand and mouthed, "Sorry." Then she saw the man's red face, inches from her and spitting obscenities at full volume. My friend locked her eyes on the road ahead and did not react, although her heart was racing and her stomach in a knot.
When the motorcyclist didn't get the rise he was looking for, he began pounding with his gloved fist on the window. At 40 miles an hour, the man tracked with her vehicle, pounding and screaming. For what was probably minutes – but she says felt like hours – the man harassed her. Fearful he might actually break through her window, my friend's mind spun out on the question, what would she do when there was no barrier to shield her from this out-of-control stranger?
She finally was able to change lanes and could see the motorcycle's license. She grabbed her mobile phone and punched in 9-1-1. But because no windows were broken and the man eventually pulled off into a driveway, there was no follow-up by law enforcement. Shaken and bewildered, my friend continued on her way, grateful her young daughter had been spared this experience.
A few months later she was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeway. Just ahead of her was a convertible Mercedes. My friend could see that the driver, a young woman, was texting. When the gap separating the Mercedes from the traffic that had moved ahead reached 10 car lengths, my friend tapped her horn lightly to signal, "Hey, pay attention."
The blonde in the Mercedes responded by showing off some signals of her own. Glaring in her rear-view mirror, she demonstrated several offensive hand gestures. And the fun did not stop there. First the woman remained stopped in the road, then, she drove ahead quickly – only to slam on her breaks.
Two Greatest Commandments
Maybe you've experienced road rage where you live. Here in Southern California, nearly everyone has encountered something like it. What do you do when a complete stranger "flips out" on you? Do you meet them at their level? What does it take for you to lose your cool?
If you're a Christian, Jesus has some pretty direct things to say to such actions. For example, in Matthew 22:37-40, He reminds us that loving God first and then loving our neighbor are the two greatest commandments. In other words, they're the most important things we are designed to do!
Think about people you know who aren't followers of Christ. Would they say you demonstrate uncanny calm in the face of provocation? Or would they say there is nothing about you that is different from the non-believers they know?
If we express the love of God the way we were designed to, there would be no mistaking believers from nonbelievers.
A teenager recently said something revealing to me. "When I look at my Christian friends, I don't see any difference between their lives and mine, so why should I go to church? Why should I obey a bunch of laws and have a preacher tell me what I should do? Why should I hand over my money when I'm just as happy as they are and I get to keep my money and do whatever I want to do?"
The people who experience you, should experience the love of Jesus – even when you are in five o'clock traffic and people are testy and hard to love.
Your life is the strongest sermon you'll ever preach.