It was a night in the middle of December. One of those rainy, cold ones that chills your very bones and seems to turn your blood to molasses.
I wasn’t getting much sleep in those weeks, counting three consecutive hours as a miracle.
I was late. Frazzled. And convinced the measly thread that held my sanity together would snap at any moment and I would succumb to the desperate desire of lying in a dark room alone for a week without interruption.
Tears were always just beneath the surface at this point and time. I could have successfully launched an acting career as I had become increasingly skilled at crying on demand, needing nothing more than the prompting of a Trulia commercial.
It was this night in particular when I really felt I was about to break. It was time to head home after work and I was loading the car. I carried Kenneth, then 6 months old, in his car seat, snapping it into the already latched base, and shut the door.
I climbed into the driver’s seat, ignoring empty water bottles and crumbled trash and abandoned junk mail as I fumbled for my keys. Honk, honk, honk, honk–the alarm was suddenly blaring and lights flashing, attracting attention on the crowded suburban street.
Embarrassed, I began smashing furiously at all the buttons on the key remote, quickly silencing the car alarm, stuffing the key in the ignition and firing the engine. Music blared and air blasted from the vents.
I took a moment to adjust the volume and temperature, keenly aware of my frozen and aching fingers.
Josh was still inside getting his last five minutes of play with his cousin, so I got out of the vehicle and shut the door, wanting to allow the car to warm so Ken wouldn’t be cold.
I ran up the the driveway and called for Josh. He fought me, as per usual, and I wearily sighed.
“Please, son, let’s just get in the car.”
He harumphed his way down to the car and stood by his door, waiting for me to open it. I reached for the handle and pulled with my usual exertion–but the door didn’t open. I pulled again. Nothing.
It was locked.
I could feel the panic rising in my chest. And those blasted tears fighting to break the surface. My throat tightened and my cheeks felt hot.
Sprinting clumsily to the other side of the car I jerked on the driver’s door and nearly sobbed when it, too, was locked.
The panic was taking over.
No. Crap. No. No. Crap! My baby is in there!
I peered through his window, hardly able to see from the steam and condensation of the drizzly night. But I could faintly hear him crying. My stomach dropped at this realization, the instinct to care for my child at his cry filling every corner of my mind with irrational thoughts. I searched wildly for something strong enough to break the glass.
Think, think, think.
My logical self was clawing through the panic. Stop. Look. Is there any real danger?
I took a deep breath. Still holding back the tears, but knowing if I spoke it would be like opening the floodgates. I had to regroup. I had to find calm. I needed to call my husband.
I realized with another wave of dread my phone was locked in the car, too.
Steeling myself, hoping desperately to get the words out without unraveling, I ran back into the house.
My sister was just opening the front door as I reached it, astonished to see the wild look in my eyes.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I just need to use your phone,” I said. Trying to be strong, trying to be calm. Everything would be okay. This could be handled quickly.
“What happened?” She demanded, never one to cooperate without satisfactory information.
“I locked the car. Everything is in the car. I need to call Ben for the spare key,” I told her, trying to be patient, painfully aware I needed her help and it was all my fault.
She handed it over. Passing Josh as he rejoined the chaos of playing children, I called my husband.
On the phone with Ben, through waves of tears, panic, and frustration, I explained how I locked the car–locked his baby in the car–and needed the spare key to get in.
He, patient with my drama that always feels justified under pressure, calmly said he would be there in twenty minutes.
In the mean time my sister had contacted her neighbors to see if they would be able to help.
I just about crumpled from the embarrassment. From my insufficiency. Feeling the heavy weight of my utter screw-up.
When Ben arrived the neighbors had already set to work, and my heart surged with joy–the spare key!
I stood poised at Ken’s door, not having left it since hanging up the phone, and waited for the sound of locks clicking, ready to lift my baby out of his seat and snuggle him and apologize for failing.
But the locks weren’t clicking. Ben jumped out of the truck and I waited expectantly.
“Don’t you have the key?” I demanded harshly. Aren’t you going to rescue me from this mess I made and save me from any more shame?!
“I was still at work. I came straight here,” he said, as though it was obvious. Or maybe I just took it that way. Because I was mad and disappointed and humiliated.
He stormed past me, presumably confused at my lack of gratitude for his presence, and joined in to help with jimmying the car.
I don’t want to be liable for any car jacking so I won’t describe their methods here.
All I can say is, after another thirty minutes, and my panic slowly giving way to a dull lethargy, they were able to open the car.
I wanted to feel relieved. I was relieved. Ken had long since fallen asleep, though, so I didn’t pull him from his seat. I merely did my best to thank our newfound friends for the generosity and kindness and climbed into the car dejectedly while Ben found Josh and buckled him in.
The whole way home, I apologized over and over. Finally my husband said, “It’s fine. I really don’t know why you are making such a big deal. Everybody makes mistakes.”
I knew he was right. It really was fine. One of those no harm, no foul moments. To which I should’ve been grateful. But, my sneaky, persistent, lingering pride was wounded.
See, some of you may have read through this and thought a number of things that I should have done or could have done to prevent this situation, and you’re right about all of them, I’m sure. But my pride doesn’t want you to be right, doesn’t want anyone to be able to look down on it.
Pride is a major stumbling block. It comes in all different shapes and sizes and methods. And being angry that you failed because others will know that you are capable of messing up is one of its more stealthy forms.
See, we can disguise our anger at ourselves’ over making mistake instead as repentance for the mistake we made. When really, we just want to get ahead of everyone’s judgment by judging ourselves more harshly from the start. That’ll show them!
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t upset purely because of my overgrown, puffed up pride. I was also consumed with what-if’s (what if it had been summer? what if I woudn’t have turned the heater on? What if we had to pay a locksmith?) But once it was clear everything and everyone was fine, nothing was left to be upset about but a whole lot of rotten shame.
I bet the majority of you are actually sympathizing, remembering a time you messed up and had to humbly accept the help of others who not only witnessed your mistake, but had the power to assist you out of it.
And, I bet you received immeasurable heaps of grace–from everyone except yourself.
Ultimately, when we can’t stand to need help from others, we should really consider if we believe we need any help at all. From others, but truly, from God Himself. Because there’s one thing we couldn’t have helped ourselves’ out of, and that’s the terrible sentence to an eternal life separated from our Creator. (Is your pride still demanding you work harder to earn it?)
I’ll leave you with this quote from C.S. Lewis in the transcript of a radio broadcast titled Mere Christianity:
As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.