A few years ago, when SUV drivers were being collectively shunned for blatantly polluting the environment, someone thoughtfully asked, “What would Jesus drive?” To me, the answer seems obvious—he wouldn’t be driving anything.
If Jesus never owned a home, he probably wouldn’t own a vehicle either. He’d be walking or riding the bus or subway.
I don’t claim to be like Jesus. My husband and I own a home and three vehicles. Nevertheless, increasingly I feel a nudge to take the bus more often. When I think it might be the voice of Jesus asking me to do this, it becomes easier. It has even become an act of obedience on my part to take the long way home.
I would venture to say that many people who regularly ride the bus don’t have another option available to them and would gladly drive if they could. Maybe some would even be upset to know that I’m taking up a seat when I have other means to get around. Getting up extra early in the morning; waiting in the cold or rain; juggling strollers, backpacks, and umbrellas (not to mention a cup of coffee); and trying to keep your balance on an overcrowded bus after being on your feet for eight or nine hours at work—riding the bus can be an unpleasant experience! So why do I choose to do it?
Inspired by Mother Teresa
I am no Mother Teresa, but folks like her have inspired me not only to give to charity but to be present with those who are less fortunate. I love people, and when I sit (or stand) on the bus, looking at the diverse beauty of those around me, my heart fills with praise—each person is so “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139). And since I know each one sitting near me carries the burdens of life just as I do, my heart also fills with prayers of intercession for them.
For some reason I, who grew up on a farm in South Dakota, have a strong desire to be with “the masses.” Maybe it’s because so few people were available to me as a child, yet in church I was taught to love and reach out to people. I remember once as a young child coming home from church with my family and blurting out, “I love everyone in the whole world!” One of my older, wiser sisters challenged me, “You don’t know everyone in the whole world.” How true. I knew very few people, and this sister, whom I knew very well, was often the hardest for me to love! Yet I sensed the magnitude of “for God so loved the world.” How can I know anyone if I’m not present with them? When I ride the bus, I’m right there with people.
Taking a Stand
Second, while I love people, I hate the car culture. Perhaps my rural background has also given me a deep appreciation for the created world. I hate to see the streams of vehicles polluting the air that we and other creatures breathe. If I can be one less car on the road, I feel as if I’m doing my small part to help the environment. Sure, the bus also pollutes, but not as much as 40 cars.
In many suburban areas such as mine, cars rule, and public transit can be inconvenient. The only way that will change is if more people ride the bus. As the number of riders increases, more money gets invested in the system. Besides, while it takes some planning and getting up a little earlier in the morning, I like not having to worry about driving in heavy traffic, and at the same time I save on gas and wear and tear on my car.
Blessed by Surprises
Finally, I ride the bus for the surprises that wait for me. For several years I volunteered at a local youth drop-in center where I was able to build relationships with young people in the community. Now I often meet some of these same youths on the bus. It’s been fun to see them again and catch up on their lives. A few times I’ve met people from my church or neighborhood on the bus. It builds a sense of community for me to meet up with people I know. And occasionally I strike up a conversation with a total stranger. That doesn’t happen on the days I drive my car to work.
Once, after a particularly long and tiring day at work, I listened to the anxious dialogue of three teenage girls in the seat in front of me. They were having some difficulty with their fares. One of them had entered the bus with a transfer from another system and wasn’t given a new transfer by the driver. Her friends were trying to explain the situation to her, and after listening to the three for a while, I asked, “Do you need a transfer?” I handed her my own transfer and said that I would walk home from where I ordinarily connect to another bus. The girls were surprised and grateful. I thought of my own teenage daughter and how glad I would be if someone helped her out in such a situation.
Then I remembered it had been pouring rain most of the day, and I’d get soaked walking home.
After the girls got off the bus, I sat there thinking, “Why did I do that?” I had already worked late and needed to get home to cook dinner. The sun was starting to go down. Maybe I would just buy another ride for the short connection home.
When I got off the bus, however, it was no longer raining. I decided the 20-minute walk would do me good. Then for some reason I decided to go down the jogging path by the lake and through the parks. As I left the main road, no one was around except the occasional dog walker. The moon shone brightly, and the sky was a patchwork of purple and dark-gray clouds. As the cold air hit my face, I walked briskly, not only to get home quickly, but in case the rain started up again. I soon realized this was no shortcut. It was going to take me even longer to get home. I began to pray. First it was, “God, why am I doing this?” Then came thought after thought, person after person, and I directed each to God.
Eugene Peterson describes prayer as “intensity of spirit at attention before God.” That evening, as I walked alone with the wind in my face, my spirit was intensely present before God. I found myself singing. It was the best time of prayer I’d had in several weeks, if not months. The walk was spontaneous and refreshing, as if God had taken me by the hand and gently whispered, “Jackie, come with me. We’ll take the long way home.”