For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
– Ephesians 2:8-10
Anyone who lives far enough north to be where snowplows operate in the winter would consider these tireless workers to be angels in disguise.
Okay, when you are stuck behind one for ten miles in mountainous terrain, eating the salt that he’s spreading, they don’t seem angelic.
Oh, and another thing, when you get to work early and the snowplow has plowed windrows all around your car so that you can’t get out. Oh, that is when you get steaming mad.
When I was shipped back to the US after three years in Germany, the Army assigned me to a post in metropolitan Boston, MA in Watertown. I was at a research center, hundreds of civilians and eleven military. I worked for the Facilities Engineer (FE) as the Assistant FE. Since I was still military, I could not technically be the boss. I ended up with a ton of miscellaneous assignments, while filling in for the civilian boss in his absence. One of my first jobs was supervising and streamlining snowplow operations. That’s all the advice that I was given.
Take in this picture. I grew up in Mississippi. I then moved to Texas and a summer in the DC area. If it were not for three years in Germany, I would have essentially zero experience in seeing a snowplow at work. Ploughs? Yeah! My early years were on a farm. I had driven a tractor from the fields to the house, two miles away, years before I ever had a driver’s license. But snowplows? The boss must have been crazy.
Two days later, the main gate called to wake me up at 3:00am. The snow was already a few inches deep and the snowplow operators would be pulling up to my apartment any minute. I was going to ride shotgun for the first two snows of the season before I promulgated new parking rules to everyone on the site, to all those 200+ car owners in the parking lots.
With the first snow, we were unable to clear any parking lot. Early birds peppered every parking lot. To make it worse, they parked in the middle of rows, so the operators could not plow the parking spaces on either side. When these early birds left at lunch for the day, there would be three parking spaces with heavy snowfall and windrows. By the way, a windrow is the pile of snow created by the trailing edge of the plow. The blade is at an angle, so the right edge is usually trailing. This snow gets packed down and harder to deal with in the coming days. This led to my snow clearance guide. The parking lots would be cleared in a specific sequence. No one was allowed to park in a lot until the lot was cleared. Anyone violating the snow clearance rules would be dealt with. Thus sayeth the Asst. FE, Captain, US Army, Corps of Engineers. My threat was kind of nebulous. My boss and I had not figured that out. We were thinking a formal letter of reprimand, but the civilians would ignore that. Second offenders might get towed at their expense, but I had not set up a contract with a tow service yet. All of that was to be determined. Maybe the threat would work.
As I got to know the crusty, cantankerous, and slightly devilish snowplow operators, I learned how they handled people who violated the rules. There was no need in calling a wrecker for a tow. As it snows more and more, you start running out of places to shove the snow. Ding! The lightbulb comes on. After my edict, I did not ride with my guys on the next snow day. Instead, I walked the site through five of six large parking lots and a few small ones, along with the on-street parking. In the second lot, that was declared clear about 5:00am, I saw a car parked in the middle of the lot. There was tightly packed snow on all four sides, about three feet thick. It had already hardened into solid ice. Whoever owned the car would not have use of the car for a long time. It would take at least a week of warm weather to melt that much ice. For this case, a little over two weeks (not enough days above freezing in a row). After talking to the guys, I learned that heavier snows required picking up the piles of snow with a front-end loader. They could then move that snow to a grassy area, or onto the roof of an offending car. If that happened, you are looking at Spring before you get your car back.
I first thought of how horrible that was. It was definitely cruel and inhumane punishment. Then I remembered the difficulties the drivers had. I remembered my bluff that hinted at punishment for violators. At that point, I laughed and shook my head. I could send out a hollow threat that everyone would ignore, but once the gossip mill learned how violators would be punished, it wouldn’t happen again. But alas, some people are thick headed. It happened one more time about a month later. One of the other early birds must not have gotten the memo.
What does this have to do about being closer to Jesus? Nothing and everything. Jesus said that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Our problem is that we think of what we would want, and we treat the neighbor that way. Our problem is that we are still thinking in a self-centered way, even when we are trying to follow the Golden Rule.
I had two snowplow operators. One lived in Rhode Island, and the other lived in New Hampshire, over an hour’s drive away in perfect conditions. They were both nearing retirement age. They admitted that if the snow was going to be bad, they wouldn’t even go to bed that night. About midnight, they’d drive to the research facility in Massachusetts. If the snow was bad, that might take a while. But they made these sacrifices so that the streets and parking lots would be safe for others. All this sacrifice sounds angelic, but then they see something in their way. It wasn’t necessary that they should have this obstruction. The car’s driver could have parked in a lot further away and walked. This would have left the area clear for the snowplows to work.
As for our Scripture, we are not saved by good works, but God has prepared good works for us ahead of time. We must be tuned in to what God wants of us when those roads cross. Even when we arrive early for work on a snowy morning, beating the traffic snarl on icy roads, and we are given an option of parking far away and walking or choosing a closer parking place in a lot that is not yet cleared.
To follow the Golden Rule perfectly, we must see life through the other person’s eyes, with the other person’s behavioral tendencies, and with the other person’s temperament. Only then can we react in a way that the other person will interpret as showing God’s love.
That is almost impossible to do. It requires a little mind reading. It is impossible if we fail to let God take control and guide our reaction to any new circumstance.
With God, all things are possible, including showing love to a tired, old, cranky, cantankerous, and sometimes evil snowplow operator.