I pulled into the parking lot of one of my favorite parks to walk at and, immediately, disappointment set in.
There were no spaces available. Honestly, that’s not saying much because it feels like the world’s smallest parking lot with a maximum of 18 spaces. And on this particular day, not only was it completely full, but about 10 additional cars had also parked on the grass—right next to the large sign that says: “Do not park on the grass.”
When it comes to rules, I’m pretty black and white. If it says go, I go. If it says don’t, I don’t. And you know what? I seem to be even better at making sure that everyone else knows and follows the rules too. So imagine my surprise when the first question that popped into my head was, “Should I do it too? Should I follow everyone else’s lead and park in the grass too?”
My rule-following voice immediately chimed in. “You know, Sarah…today’s probably the day that you’ll do that and then return from your walk to find a friendly little parking ticket on your windshield.”
“Highly unlikely,” I answered back. “I mean what’s the big deal? It’s graaaaaaasssss. No one really cares.”
Rule-voice: “Someone cared enough to post a sign about it, so it must matter to someone.”
Friends, I’m almost starting to laugh at the absurdity of this debate going on in my head because it’s a PARKING LOT. A seemingly minor, insignificant decision. And this wasn’t the first debate of the day either. Just an hour earlier, I was defending myself to my husband for refusing to signal a turn with my blinker while driving.
“There’s no one around to see it,” I told him. “Who am I signaling to?”
“That’s not the point,” he replied. “The rules are, you signal when turning. Period.”
For the record, my husband is not necessarily a staunch rule-follower and enforcer, but he knows that I am and his point was to illuminate a rather unsettling truth about myself: It seems that I tend to follow the rules that suit me and ignore the ones that don’t.
And to add to my transgressions, I often exhibit a whole other level of hypocrisy by holding others accountable for their non-law-abiding behaviors while I blissfully blow past them going 60 in a 45—so to speak.
So here I am…in a parking lot…weighing the consequences of my “to park or not to park in the grass” decision while also facing the reality that I’m not the squeaky-clean rule follower that I thought I was…when a third voice entered the mix.
He was gentle, kind, and compassionate as always.
“Sarah, it’s not so much about the rules here as it is about your character. Who you are when no one is watching is just as important—if not more—than when others are watching.”
Point. Set. Match. Jesus.
You see, back in Jesus’ day, he dealt with this all the time. The religious leaders were so focused on the dos and don’ts of the law that they missed the heart of the matter—even when it was staring them right in the face. They were more focused on appearances and doing the right things when others were watching—giving lip service when it suited them to do so. But their hearts were in the wrong place.
It’s always been and always will be a matter of the heart.
So I decided right then and there to do the “right” thing because it was the right thing. Not because someone was watching. Not because I feared a ticket. Not because the “No Parking on the Grass” sign didn’t particularly suit me and my needs.
I want who I am in the little moments to line up with who I am in the big moments, because I believe that if we take time to cultivate our character in the small things, we’ll be ready to face the big things.
But wait, friends, there’s more. After patiently waiting in my car for maybe five minutes, my decision was rewarded. A fellow walker was leaving and a legit parking space was mine for the taking. And just in case you were wondering, I also rectified that other rule I often struggle with and put my turn signal on…with only God and me to see it.
Start small friends…and we’ll win big—whether we have an audience or not.