Random Musings: Lessons of the Four-Way Stop

June 6, 2021

I love the way God teaches, corrects, transforms, and affirms our lives through the unending osmosis between the holy and the human if we will only pay attention and get with the program in this thing called life.  

Why?

Because I believe these teachings, which often come in the most benign of situations – no angelic beings, no lightning bolts or thunder – just ‘aha’ moments that come day in and day out – serve as affirmation that the Holy One hasn’t given up on us and the recreation of the world for God’s glory. It’s truly transformative grace. 

For example:

I have begun riding my bicycle again and have gotten a whole new perspective on the ‘rules of the road;’ a perspectives even beyond time on the bike trail!

In the past, when I was driving my car, I always maintained a wide berth and a low speed around bicycles.  Those rules were put in place for a reason – for the future life of all traveling the roadways together; to fail to follow them might have horrible consequences for everyone!

Got it!  Good driver award here!

But there’s more to compatible interaction between bicycles and cars than rules, as I have recently realized. 

In the past, when the road crossed a bike path and there was a four way stop, the rules state clearly: whoever gets to the stop sign first has the right of way – car, bicycle, whoever – equal law abiding opportunities for all! I typically was self-righteously annoyed if the bikers approaching the stop sign failed to stop and give me the right of way. I WAS there first!  

My cyclist friends had told me how dangerous riding amongst cars is; they’re not sheathed in metal like I am in my car. No brainer.

Yet, when my friends expressed their frustration over automobile drivers who insisted cyclists stop and wait their turn at four-way stops, I didn’t get it – rules are rules, after all!  Why must bikers feel so entitled…

Enter the benign holy opportunity for transformation – first in this situation and then in life.

We may understand the rules and the orderliness rules give us, but what if there is something more to biking – to life – than just rules? 

What about listening to the experiences of others and offering grace….

Four-way stops are a good place to begin… 

Do you know why cyclists don’t want to stop at a four-way stop? 

Because it’s often hard to get back up to speed again, especially if there is a hill looming directly ahead; I don’t care how many speeds you have on your bicycle or how athletic you are!  For a car, starting up again is easy!  For a bicycle, not so much.  

If an automobile driver defers to a cyclist, rules aren’t being ignored; grace is being offered! I am so grateful for drivers who ‘got there first’ yet waited to let me cross when they see me coming! 

So grateful…..and so convicted…… by my own past ungracious, rule-following behavior of the past….

It took experience as a cyclist – the ‘other’ on the road – to change my attitude and my behavior.  

And so enters the random musing of the four-way stop…..

Experience may be the best teacher, but what if such experience is impossible to attain?  What then?  

I feel self-serving over not listening to cyclists in the past. Why did it take an experience to change my point of view…..what was I missing…..?

If I had just listened to my friends in my pre-cycling days, rather than judging them for not understanding my rights as the consummate rule follower, our life together on the road could have been so much better!

The same is true of life…..

How can we become unified as one humanity if we have no possibility of living any experience beyond our own? 

We can listen to those living experiences we cannot share and allow what we hear – what we learn – to change us.  

Rules may  be essential for orderly living; but listening is essential for God-empowered living, and such listening must be done through the filter of God’s love.

But listening isn’t where it ends: listening is to be active and transformative in our lives if it is to matter at all. 

For example:

We cannot be other than the person God made us to be: Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, Latino(a), indigenous, White, LGBTQIA+, straight, urban, suburban, rural, American, international, whatever.   

AND, We can’t experience the lives of others first hand, because we can’t ever live their lives.

Yet, we can learn from each other and come to a place of grace-filled community if we listen with the ears of God.

Such listening is:

Without prejudgment or condescension

Without defensiveness and entitlement

Without needing to be right and prove all others wrong

With an ear toward:

Celebrating the victories of others

Embracing the suffering of others

Seeking to empower and affirm the lives of others

This is the listening that shapes the God life; a life that hears the calling of grace beyond the law.  If we choose not to hear in such a way, the world will remain its legalistic, overbearing, combative self-righteous self!

An example?  

Christ, of course!

Christ had His divine rights yet humbly set aside those rights, humbled Himself and became man. 

Christ experienced our lives, yet through the filter of God’s grace-filled love – a love that not only completes but exceeds the law.

He listened to the cry of the needy, the outcast, the sinner and included them – even when it went against the rigidity of law.  

He healed the broken in body and soul – even on the Sabbath with its religious prohibitions.

He forgave those who considered Him to be an enemy even though under the law, He could have sought retribution for being falsely accused. 

And we are to do the same, as we:

listen to Christ, without making excuses that our ‘rules’ are better

believe that Christ’s grace-full compassion will overcome all sense of self-righteousness,

follow Christ into the world with a heart to listen and learn, 

so that we might:

love the other in the name of Christ, without exception or condition

As we actively listen in this way, not only are we transformed, but God can us as instruments of holy transformational agents of peace in the world.  

Who would have thought a simple four way stop could teach me so much!

I would love for you to share your four-way stop musings in the comment section!

And to God be the glory!  AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

2 thoughts on “Random Musings: Lessons of the Four-Way Stop

  1. Oh Catharine!! I am so happy to see your blog and feel connected to you again!! You have always been the best guiding light in my spiritual journey!
    I have retired down in the Northern Neck area of VA now. However, I am still very active. I am co-chair of SPRC and hoping to help out with the children’s program once we are back. I love my pastor – Pastor Penny Cory of Kilmarnock UMC. I also love my new church, such wonderful, loving Christian souls. The pace here is so much slower and peaceful. Last year was the end of my 8 yr tenure on the Rules Committee as required, actually I will miss it after being on it for so long.

    I love you dear Catharine! I send you blessed thoughts & prayers for your well being and happiness. Please continue to send your blog. I so enjoy your words and spirit so much!

    Your sister in Christ,
    Judy Craun
    judykpa@aol.com

    email me & I will give you all my new info

    Like

    1. Judy – so good to hear from you! You sound so happy in retirement and at your new church home! Thank you for your past service to the UMC and Leesburg church in particular. Can’t wait to see what God has in store for you going forward- blessings and peace and you begin this new chapter

      Like

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