God’s in the backseat

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Summer just isn’t summer in my family without at least one road trip. The bikes strapped precariously to the back to the car, the bagels atop our tote bags, and even the kids jostling for more space in the backseat signify “vacation” to us as much as beach days and backyard picnics. We delight in finding the unexpected and the unfamiliar as we drive forward together down the next highway or quiet back road. In addition to all the local color we found on our travels this summer, there was something else unfamiliar on the road – my daughter.

Having turned 16 in May during the pandemic, Abigail had her learner’s permit and driver’s ed classes postponed, though we knew her initiation to the road was inevitable. Didn’t one of those bikes just have training wheels? How could she already be asking, “Want me to drive, Dad?” Impossible.

With the permit finally in her hand and a few driver’s classes on Zoom behind her, Abigail begged my husband to venture out with her one Sunday afternoon on a whole new set of training wheels. Brave man that he is, he agreed, but not before I gave her a final reminder. “Dad’s in the passenger seat. Listen to what he says,” I advised. “But who’s in the backseat?”

“Well, no one!” she replied, incredulous. “I can’t even have Elizabeth or a friend until at least…”

“No, no, no,” I said, shaking my head. “Think about it. Who’s in the backseat?”

Suddenly remembering, she nodded and said, “Oh, right. God’s in the backseat.”

Like any parent who has traveled this rite of passage with a child, we knew we couldn’t do it alone. Our daughters know that God is always with them, surrounding them, protecting them, guiding them, and loving them wherever they are – including in the backseat of the car. We reminded Abigail of this as she drove us around the neighborhood, cautiously, steadily, keeping the requisite three seconds of space behind the car in front and positioning her hands at nine- and three-o’clock as though she knew God was checking on her as much as we were. And then she learned that He was not just in our backseat, but in everyone’s.

After a friend picked her up for dinner one night, an unexpected summer storm kicked in. Thunder echoed in the distance as bursts of lightning divided the evening sky. Though her friend was a responsible driver, worry gnawed at me. What if there was flooding, hydroplaning, someone speeding past them? Then the text came that they were almost home. When Abigail walked in, I tried to hide my concern, but the tight hug I gave her betrayed me. “We were fine! Tara is a very safe driver,” she said, then added, “and God was in the backseat.”

Scripture tells us that “God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you,” a passage that comforts me as much as I hope it comforts my daughter. As we all drive forward together this summer – the 16-year-old with her learner’s permit, the families on their road trips, and our communities battling this pandemic – it’s reassuring to know that we all have a backseat driver.

By Emily Clark