When I was a kid, we learned lots of lessons in threes. For example, if there’s a fire, what do you do? Stop, drop, and roll. Good job. Most sermons in the little Southern Baptist church where we spent most Sunday mornings until I was about nine-years-old also came with three lessons. I guess it’s easier to remember three than say, 95 Theses.
One of the most memorable three-point lessons from childhood is what to do when you approach a railroad crossing. Do you remember the rule? Stop, look, and listen. If you don’t want to get hit by a train, these three habits are vital.
Search Youtube, and you’ll quickly find videos of hurried and/or distracted drivers who chose not to stop, look, and listen. The results are disastrous and sometimes fatal. Trains come at us with an enormous amount of momentum, and if we aren’t paying attention, terrible things can happen.
During my formative years, I recognized just how powerful trains are. When I was a young boy, my great-grandfather would load me up in his old Datsun pickup, and drive me down to the train track that ran along Yellowleaf Creek. Papaw would pull the truck off the road and onto the gravel access road, next to the tracks. He would park near the tiny signal house, place one finger in the air, and with a childlike sparkle in his eyes, raise one finger, as he whispered, “now you wait right here.”
No matter how many times I’d seen the trick, I was always amazed by the way the train could flatten a perfectly good penny. Papaw would place the shiny copper coin on the track, while the train was still a good ways off, and after the choo-choo rolled over it, the penny would be pressed paper thin.
What a great memory.
While the penny was fascinating to little Stevie, the truth is that it was nearly crushed beneath the weight of the locomotive; it’s shape, forever altered by the relentless smashing of the engine, coal cars, and caboose. And if you don’t stop, look, and listen, a train will treat you the same way.
Trains are no respecter of persons.
You can learn a lot by the train and penny. When is the last time you stopped, looked, and listened? It can save you from a great deal of trouble. Whether your soul feels clogged, anxiety is squeezing your brain, depression’s black dog is hounding you day and night, or you’re just not sure you can handle the stress much longer, please let me encourage you to stop, look, and listen.
Stop hustling for your worthiness. Stop performing for the approval fix. Stop trying to live up to the unrealistic expectations of others. Stop trying to keep the world spinning. In the words of my friend Sue, “The merry-go-round has a motor. You don’t have to push it.” Stop focusing on the what of your life, and begin to discover who you are, beneath the noise.
Look around. What do you see? Piles of responsibility and resentment? Loads of busyness? Lines of demanding people and chores, five miles long? When is the last time you shifted your focus and looked for the beauty in everyday life? When did you last notice the deep blue of your wife’s eyes or the way your husband’s beard is beginning to grey? When did you stop long enough to appreciate your son’s homework, or watch your daughter twirl in the backyard like a ballerina? Look around – what are you grateful for?
Listen to the voice beneath the chatter. Stop talking long enough to appreciate the gift of silence. Feeling stuck? Listen to the answers inside your soul, longing to show you a better way. My friend, Ed Bacon, refers to stillness as the level below quiet, down in the deepest seas of your soul, where the waves can no longer distort or distract. Get quiet and listen to the voice of God – the voice of Love and Belonging and Peace – in the midst of a life that seems to never slow down, no matter how desperate we are to find a little solitude.
Look for goodness.
Listen to the truth of your being.
Life is either a gift or a long series of holding your breath until the next disaster strikes. I’m choosing to slow down, keep my eyes peeled, and my heart open to the blessing of each ordinary day, believing that I was made for more than just the next train wreck.