So, last night Sunday I was stuck in a traffic jam. I was heading down to the north side of Chicago to do my DMin course when I got stuck in traffic somewhere around mile 35 of north east Indiana. Now, don’t get me wrong, Indiana is a nice state–cross roads of America and all. But that stretch of the I-94 from the Michigan border to the Illinois border gives Indiana a bad name. It’s like The Phantom Menace of the national interstate system (okay, that might be a bit harsh, but still, it just hurts to drive that stretch). And being stuck in traffic in that area for an hour isn’t fun at all. I kept watching my gas level and my bladder level. I started to wish I hadn’t gotten that large Diet Coke in Zeeland, MI before I left.
As the cars around me creeped, stopped, creeped some more, I began to get agitated. I tried making the best of the situation. I made some phone calls. Didn’t help. I started streaming Air 1 on my phone into the car. Didn’t help. I tried playing the license plate game where you try to find as many license plates from different states. All I found were Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. Some dudes in the lane to the left of me got out of their car, ran to the car behind them, talked for a little bit, got some water bottles, and ran back to their own car. And we didn’t move the whole time.
I. Was. Stuck.
35 minutes later, I came near Valpraiso, Indiana. My back teeth were floating. Other people seemed to have the same idea as me. I found a Dunkin’ Donuts. Felt better. Got some coffee and donuts and back into the traffic jam. And it continued of for another half hour. Finally, finally when it cleared up around mile 19 and we sped up, there was nothing. Nothing at all. No construction. Just orange barrels and signs. No people doing construction work. No accident. Not even a car on the side of the road. Just a bunch of cars moving slowly at a snails pace along the way. It took an hour to go 16 miles. For what? Nothing at all.
I just lived through an hour of a phantom traffic jam. Somewhere, sometime, there was something. But not anymore. And people were still reacting to what had happened in the past that shouldn’t have affected them now, yet it still did.
How many times in our lives do we experience that? How many times do we live in such a way that something that happened sometime back still affects us in the present even though it shouldn’t? In fact, it holds us back. It prevents us from moving forward. We get into our own phantom traffic jam.
These phantom jams get all wrapped up in our spiritual lives as well. We get all focused on the things we’ve done wrong. We get all focused on the things we’ve tried to do ourselves and failed at. And we begin to get jammed up. What happened in the past begins to affect us in the present and prevents us from moving forward into the future. And it can be tough. Our own accomplishments that get in the way. Our failures to do what we thought was right get in the way. Our frustrations of not having God answer our prayers in the timing and way we wanted Him too get in the way. It becomes hard.
Paul writes this in Philippians
“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14
If anyone was to get caught up in a spiritual phantom traffic jam, it’d be Paul. Dude was a total meany. He persecuted Christians. I mean like had them arrested and even killed. And then he met Jesus and his whole life changed. He had accomplishments up the wazoo and he had a past worse than any of us. And yet he decided to leave it behind and move forward seeking what God had called him to do.
The author of Hebrews says something similar
“Let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2
When we get jammed up, we lose sight of what’s ahead. We only see the cars in front of us and how fast we’re going. We don’t realize that there’s something more ahead. We don’t always realize that there’s something that happened in the past that’s affect the present in moving forward in the future. We need to cast it off. Leave it behind. Let it go. Let God, who is ore than capable and big enough, to help us handle and deal with it.
What is holding you back? What is entangling you? What is the phantom traffic jam in your life? When you hold on to it, it does nothing for you but hold you back. Give it over, and give it up, and you can move forward in the present towards the future walking with Jesus.