Many people believe there is no prayer in American public schools. To those who think this is the case, I invite you to come for a ride in a driver education car. During the years I did my best to teach teenagers how to survive while driving, I can testify that there was constant prayer in my four-wheeled classroom.
It takes great faith and optimism to put your life in the hands of a novice driver. In the school district where I worked, we would take three students at a time, have each one drive for 20 minutes, return for a moment to calm our nerves, and then begin all over again. It was during the short breaks that driver education teachers told their latest near-miss stories and tried to bolster each other’s courage.
One of the first skills we taught was lane changing. In order to make it simple, we reduced the proper procedure to a four-step code word, SMOG. The letters stood for the steps the beginning driver needs to take—signal, mirrors, over-the-shoulder glance, and go. When done in proper sequence, these steps lead to a safe lane change. When any of the four is left out, an accident can happen.
One morning I was with a group of new drivers. On a relatively quiet four-lane road we were practicing lane changes. A young man persistently failed to look over his shoulder before making the maneuver. After reminding him several times, I was growing impatient.
“Jim,” I said, “you’re not checking your blind spot. Now try it again.” The result was the same—signal, mirror, and go. He again neglected to glance over his shoulder.
This time I was more insistent. “Check your blind spot!” I roared.
“I did,” he answered.
“You did NOT. And you’re going to get us killed if you aren’t careful.”
“Yes, I did. I looked in my mirrors to check the blind spot.”
I realized then that he didn’t understand the principle of blind spots. We were in the right lane, and I called his attention to an 18-wheeler approaching from the rear.
“See that truck in your mirror?”
“I want you to keep watching it as it approaches. Slow down a little so he has to pass. Now keep glancing in your mirrors and tell me what happens.”
As the truck approached, my student driver suddenly exclaimed, “He’s gone!”
“Look over your shoulder,” I instructed.
Sure enough, there was the truck hidden in our blind spot. A lane change at that moment would have most likely been fatal. Suddenly I had a believer. The young driver was so startled by the nearness of the truck that I had to grab the wheel and help him steer until he could calm down.
My student learned a lot that morning. Never again did he fail to check his blind spot before making a lane change. I also learned a lot with that experience. I began to realize that life itself is full of blind spots, and we all too often make lane changes without looking very carefully at the consequences.
Shortly after finishing my mission, I met a friend who had grown up in the same ward and attended the same schools I had. We had shared many experiences through the years. However, he chose not to answer the Lord’s call to serve a mission. At the time of our reunion he was on a 30-day leave from the army and was on his way to the combat zone of Vietnam.
He told me, “The dumbest three things I ever did in my life were quitting college, joining the army, and getting married (his wife had divorced him within the first year of their marriage). Not only that, but I did them all in the same week!”
“Why?” I asked.
“I was mad at my mother,” he answered. We looked at each other for a few moments and then began to laugh. “I sure fixed her, didn’t I?” he said. “I sure fixed her.”
Now that it was too late, he realized that his spiritual blind spot came in the form of anger. His eagerness to show his mother that he was in charge of his own life led him to pursue a course that he later regretted and that led him away from Church activity.
I have often thought it interesting that student drivers can learn the “blind spot” lesson much easier than the rest of us can. Maybe it’s because a quick glance over the shoulder is all it takes to find out if something is in the blind spot when you’re driving, while it is so much more difficult to see our spiritual blind spots.
Sometimes we can’t see something even when we look right at it. At times like that we need advisers, parents, teachers, and friends to alert us to the hidden truck that’s coming our way. Just like driving, once we know about blind spots, we can take the necessary precautions to make sure we make no fatal mistakes.