A Theory of “Stay in your Lane”

I learned how to drive in a 1991 cherry red Chevy S-10 with a manual transmission, broken fuel gage, and a catalytic converter that smelled like funky eggs. The roads I burned were the suburbs of Detroit, which had no small amount of traffic at any time of day. Vivid is my memory of stalling out mid-gear and frantically popping the shifter into neutral to restart the truck as my father yelled, “Stay in your lane!”

As is the wont of Detroit(ish) drivers, this refrain became a part of my vocabulary long after I got my driver’s license. Especially in heavy traffic, and especially at the social increase of car-phone use, “Stay in your lane!” was yelled out of my window accompanied by few colorful words more than I care to admit.

Road rage notwithstanding, I have seen more than in all forms of life that warranted such a cry. “Stay in your lane!” is reflected like a prism into every corner of your life, career, and interpersonal relationships. Some examples can demonstrate what I mean, beginning with Scripture:

  • A woman caught in adultery is thrown before Jesus’ feet, her stoning demanded. “Stay in your lane!” And they all walked away, leaving her forgiven by Jesus.
  • Peter pulls out his sword and cuts off the ear of Malchus. “Stay in your lane!” And Jesus is arrested to fulfill the Scriptures and save the world.
  • Some Samaritans reject Jesus, so James and John ask Him if He wants them to call down fire from heaven to consume them. “Stay in your lane!” And they move to the next town.
  • Jesus holds up a denarius and asks whose picture is on the coin. It’s Caesar’s. “Stay in your lane!” And give to God what is God’s.

    Now some contemporary, non-biblical examples:
  • In a seminar on pastoral counseling we were told to refer patients outside of our ability. “Stay in your lane!” Pastors can listen well and forgive sins; they are usually not equipped for professional counseling.
  • A grandmother wants a “family meeting” because two of her adult grandchildren are fighting. “Stay in your lane!” Triangulation is the best way to breed codependency and distrust.
  • The doctor tells you how to be well, prescribing lifestyle changes that will improve your being. But that night you go on WebMD and convince yourself you might have cancer. “Stay in your lane!” Unless you went to medical school.
  • The boss submits a policy you aren’t crazy about, so you take to Facebook and spread your discontent. “Stay in your lane!” Or get another job.

Sure, this theory is not ubiquitous and absolute, and these trite examples are more complex than they seem. To be sure, “You who are spiritual, restore with a gentle spirit.” (Gal 6:1) But you should still know your place before you do it. After all, “To his own master a servant stands of falls.” (Rom 14:4) But these days we seem to have a problem with staying in our respective lanes. We even expect and welcome others to cut us off in traffic:

  • Churches invite security consultants to tell them how to be safe, then bend over backwards to make sure their buildings are hideously locked and unwelcoming. But he’s a security consultant—what did you expect? He’s just driving in his lane.
  • Government officials invite health experts to tell them how to defend against a virus, then alter public policy no matter the peripheral considerations. But she’s a virologist—what did you expect? He’s just driving in his lane.
  • A local zoning ordinance throws a penalty flag on the field, and you roll your eyes so hard they almost fall out of your head. But he’s a zoning administrator—what did you expect? She’s just driving in her lane.

2020 can be characterized as a year with dim pavement markings, like a wet road at dusk. But the lines are still there. You still have the right to be affronted if someone spins into your lane, and you have plenty of room in your own without veering into another. Still, if you insist on switching lanes, be sure to use your turn signal. You want to be in charge? Work hard and earn it. You want to change policy? Volunteer for the board. You want someone else to lead? Go to the polls and vote. You want to change opinions? Maybe don’t scream obscenities out the window.

Oh, and make sure the car isn’t stalled out first.