Ladies and Gentlemen. The story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
On Sunday, my Sons and I were leaving the parking lot of Hales Corners Lutheran Church after a morning of worship and Sunday School. We turned left onto Janesville road. Our destination, McDonald’s, where we have gone every Sunday for over fifteen years. Mom was not with us and I (Dad) was driving.
After finishing my turn, I accelerated towards our destination. Within seconds, my rearview became a fantastic display of red and blue bubble lights. It seemed pretty clear that the lights were for me. I signaled to pull off to the right, turned off the music and fished my wallet from my back pocket. The youngest son asked what was going on, concern in his voice. The oldest seemed to casually look up at the situation, still engrossed in the music from his earbuds. My middle son, in the passenger seat, simply pointed towards McDonald’s, as if I were lost and needed additional help to arrive at our destination.
The Officer approached my car. I began to ponder the answer to his inevitable first question, “Do you know how fast you were going?”
I hate that question because I am unsure of how to answer it correctly. To be honest, I really have no idea! I usually just accelerate until I match the velocity of those around me. The officer’s single question can erupt into a flurry of inquisitiveness that I am not prepared for. How should I proceed? Do I be honest and tell him I don’t know? Do I low ball him and pretend I was doing the speed limit? Do I even know the posted speed limit? Was it changed recently? Do they still have the McRib or should I just get a salad?
The officer is now at my window. Dreading his question, I am visibly relieved when he tells me he clocked me doing 50 in a 35. He then told me he had proof from the radar gun and the speedometer as if I thought I could deny his version of events. He then asked for my License and Proof of Insurance.
I handed him the two documents. After a brief look, he informed me that the Insurance card was expired. Of course, it was, I thought! He turned and went back to his car.
My youngest son became excited and started chanting in a singsong voice, “Dad’s on a timeout! Dad’s on a timeout!” I laughed and got mad at the same time. That is something we say when we are riding together and see a car pulled over by the police. Both appear to be just sitting in their cars, doing nothing. Years ago, my son asked what was happening. I told him the driver was on a “timeout” by the police, a chance to think about their behavior.
The officer came back rather quickly and I felt a surge of uneasiness when watching him in my side mirror, I only saw him carrying my ID.
At my window again, the officer informed me that he was giving me two warnings. The first was to slow it down. The second was to update my proof of insurance. He then asked if I understood.
Clarifying, I asked him what a “warning” meant, showing my inexperience with being a criminal. He told me there was no fines and no written record of today’s events.
I thanked him, put my signal on, and continued to McDonald’s very slowly. When we arrived at the restaurant I called my wife to let her know what happened. I briefly considered having my older son call my wife and ask to be picked up because Dad just got arrested. Luckily, a better angel convinced me to simply tell the truth. I told her right away because I wanted her to know from me before the youngest gave his version, which would go something like this:
“Mom, you never believe what Dad just did! First, he tore out of the church parking lot like he was on fire! Then, a cop pulled us over! Dad said 3 bad words under his breath, including the one he said last August when I sprained my ankle at the…” That conversation would have lasted fifteen minutes and would ratchet up my wife’s anxiety to an ELEVEN, thoroughly convincing her that I was going to prison while the state sought the death penalty against me.
During our lunch, I began to question the strange turn of events. I couldn’t wrap my head around two inescapable facts. The first, I was guilty. I was driving over the speed limit. I knew better and there was no external reason for my speed. I was not rushing to a hospital. I was not late for work. I simply was unaware of how fast I had accelerated.
The second was I got away with the deed! Recalling the events, I didn’t think I was over apologetic or remorseful for my actions. In fact, I treated the whole thing rather nonchalantly. I resolved myself to the fact that I was getting a ticket, maybe two for my actions and then I would go about my day. It seemed a minor inconvenience that would be over soon so there was no need to concern myself.
When I was informed of the “warnings”, a sense of curiosity and possibly indignation started to surface. While being grateful for the outcome, it occurred to me that the officer had failed to help me provide my sons with a valuable lesson. Now my sons have an idea that sometimes wrongs will go unpunished.
The last thought that came to my mind was Grace Hopper.
Grace Hopper was a career Naval Officer who reached the rank of Rear Admiral. She joined the Reserves in 1943 and is praised as one of the US earliest computer programmers. She invented many of the computer languages we still use today.
In an article given to the “Chips Ahoy” magazine in July of 1986, she was quoted “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” I have heard this often over the last few years, mostly in defense of defiant rule breaking. On the surface, the quote sounds good and possibly a decent value of how people should operate… but is it true?
Rule or laws or procedures are put in place usually for two reasons: safety and efficiency. The speed limit on Janesville road was not created by a random dice throw. It is based on traffic patterns and statistics that maximize the public’s safety. The above quote seems to indicate that people have the right to override systems when they become inconvenient.
Another possibility for the frequency of this quote is how much people seem to fear or get angered by the word “NO”. As a public school teacher, I can truly attest to the fact that I have some students who have not been accustomed to hearing the word “NO” during their formative years. This causes problems as they advanced in school. Every “no” becomes a battle of wills, a struggle to achieve a “yes” regardless of how much damage is done. I often say a temper tantrum on a 2-year-old is adorable. One on a 14-year-old, not so much!
Another problem this quote brings up is it reinforces the person’s defiance of logical consequences. Many of my students are under the false assumption that if they apologize for their infraction of the rules, there should be no consequence. Many believe that a simple “I’m Sorry” will right all wrongs and act as if the RESET button was pushed and the event never happened.
Some acknowledge the consequences of certain actions but believe that those usual outcomes would not happen to them. They believe they are smarter or luckier than others so consequences would never happen to them.
Of course, we take this same approach to God and his laws. We console our actions in God’s inexhaustible forgiveness. We read his word and convince ourselves that it doesn’t apply to us. We convince ourselves that God’s directions are meant for other people who are not able to handle things as well as we can.
We pray weekly in Church that God’s Will Be Done, but are we really living it? I know that there have been times in my life when I have gone into an unwise situation, turn around and either blame God for the outcome or question why he didn’t bless my endeavors. Why do we continually do unwise and unhealthy things and expect good results?
Many see God like a police officer, waiting to pounce on us when we have been caught breaking the rules but I feel sorry for them. The truth is God wants us to make healthy decisions, within certain spiritual parameters, that allow us to experience the wonder and abundance of this life, in addition to an eternity with him!
So, thank you Lord for the “Traffic Stop Timeout” in our lives!
Prayer: Daddy, thank you for loving us so much you put rules in our lives. Help me live my life in a way that is pleasing to you! Amen”
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