One day, as a missionary in Tucson, Arizona, my companion and I were on our way to an appointment. While waiting at a red light, a truck came careening into our car from behind. Our car was struck by such alarming force that the back windshield shattered immediately. We were scared, but unharmed. We then expected to step out of the car and talk to the driver–undergoing the customary exchange of insurance and pertinent information. However, that exchange would not take place.
Instead, the driver of the truck backed up and crashed into the car that was behind him. He then proceeded to hit the gas–jolting us again from the rear. We screamed in horror. Was he doing this on purpose?! We sat there helplessly as he repeated this procedure again–backing up into the car behind him and ramming into us. He then pushed the gas pedal to the floor, and kept it there. He was crushing us like a tin can into the car in front of us. The smell of burnt rubber filled the air as a cloud of smoke emanated from his squealing tires. I screamed again . . . and couldn’t stop.
What was happening?! Why was he doing this? I felt like I was living in a horror novel at the mercy of a crazed missionary-hating villain! Would he continue until we were dead? But just then, one of the driver’s intentions became clear–he wanted to get away. However, the tight quarters in which he found himself made it difficult for him to fulfill his goal–he was stuck between two vehicles. So he was playing a malicious game of bumper cars in order to “make room” to flee the scene. Once there was sufficient space, he backed up, turned the wheel to drive around us and sped off! We sat there stunned for a moment, then exited the car. My companion and I were shaken up, but overall unscathed.
The “accident” happened in front of a mall. A crowd of people, who had been in the parking lot, gathered around to make sure we were OK and to join in expressions of alarm and empathy. My mind was reeling from what just took place. It was hard for me to fully comprehend what just happened. . .or that it really did happen! I was grateful for the concern of the bystanders and felt comforted momentarily. But then I once again became aware of the nametag I donned.
“I am not a victim! I am a missionary!” I said to myself resolutely. After all, it’s not every day that people approach you as a missionary, it’s usually the other way around! So I stripped myself of victim status and started talking to people about the gospel. But as I was talking to a gentleman, my panicked brain started replaying from a bird’s-eye-view, what had just transpired. The truck’s first impact. Glass shattering. Second impact. Screaming. Third impact. Smoke. Screaming. Screaming. Screaming!
At that moment, the voice of The Spirit tried to break through my thoughts–“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 )[i]. But my own thoughts interjected–“Was he trying to kill me?” I asked myself, as I simultaneously tried to teach about the restoration of the gospel. Again the Spirit tried to soothe me: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” For a moment, I thought I might embrace those words, take a deep breath and be grateful I was alive. . .but my panic pushed back– “How can I have a sound mind at a time like this?! Hadn’t I just survived a near-death experience? Was he out to get us? Did he know us? Who was this person? Did we make him mad at some point and now he was making us pay?” My mind raced frantically. “Was he. . .was he trying to kill us?”
My terrified thoughts drowned out not only the Spirit, but my thoughts related to teaching a gospel lesson. My mind became overloaded. Trying to think about three things at once was more than I could handle. For a brief moment, the thought flickered through my mind that I might be in shock.
My lack of mindfulness in this missionary contact started to become apparent. I was shaking, hyperventilating, and had tears well up in my eyes. The man with whom I was speaking chuckled a little, amused by my unfettered determination to teach the gospel. Kindly, he put his hand on my shoulder and said “It’s OK. You’ve just been through a lot! You don’t have to teach right now. . . Just rest.” He was right. There is a time to stand up and be strong and there is a time to step back and just feel the love of the Lord. So that’s what I did–I took a step back and returned to my companion. The police had been called. My companion was now speaking with our mission president, filling him in on the details of the horrifying episode we just experienced.
I calmed down and was able to recognize the blessings of that situation. Our newish car which had only hit 40,000 miles that same week was now completely totaled. But the only injuries we sustained were my companion having a sore wrist and knee. These injuries were due to her clenching the steering wheel tightly and jamming her foot into the brake pedal in an attempt to not hit the car in front of us. We were grateful to be alive and safe. God was watching over us and provided for our physical safety. But that was not all he was concerned about–he was concerned about our emotional well-being too. Heavenly Father had tried to influence me with the Spirit to comfort me with his words. He used a scripture that I had “ponderized”[ii] to assure me that I could feel power and love and have a sound mind. But he wasn’t going to force those things upon me. I had been given a choice–accept the buffetings of Satan (in the form of fear) or allow the Spirit to penetrate my heart. I chose fear.
As Nephi tells us:
“when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.” (emphasis added) (2 Nephi 33:1)[iii].
The Holy Ghost had carried a message unto my heart. But it stopped there because I didn’t do my part to allow it into my heart. Now, some might say that my choice was limited at that point because I was in shock; that may be true on some level. And I don’t mean to minimize the impact of traumatic events, many which are much worse than my own, but I did have a choice–the choice to feel peace. The choice to feel loved.
The opportunity to “choose the right when a choice is placed before us”[iv] is ever-present. It might take the form of choosing to read the scriptures, choosing to not get angry, choosing to spend money wisely etc. And in many circumstances, it might even feel like there is no choice. But God’s plan has always included choice and we chose God’s plan.
I know that choice is a powerful blessing from God. I know he loves us. He is aware of us. And I know that our Father in Heaven has provided means by which we may feel his love–if we choose to let it into our hearts.