Grace in the DMV Line

California is known for its lovely beaches, palm trees, movie stars, and the bureaucratic black hole known as the DMV. It is no secret: we hate the DMV. We make sure to let our friends know where we’re going in case we don’t return and the search party needs to know where to start. We anticipate losing a half a day for what should be a 10 minute procedure. We joke that having to go to the DMV is the real reason people are moving out of California.

Today, one of my pastors even used the DMV as an illustration. He had a list of things that could make his experience there better, including cheerful, knowledgeable greeters, an indoor play ground for children, and adequate parking. Those are high aspirations. I would’ve just settled for a shorter wait.

I was there last week, with an appointment, to get my year-old license updated to the new Real ID. As if things weren’t bad enough already in California, the federal government adds that burden to the mess? (Friends in India, China, Honduras–I apologize. I know some of you would kill for the efficiency of the California DMV.)

But, I digress. I was standing there, 45 minutes after my scheduled appointment, observing the nearly 200 people sitting in early-80’s fiberglass chairs, and I began working my way through a few instructive memory verses. You know: Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without complaining. Do everything without arguing, for this is right in the sight of our God, children of the Lord.” (Some of you just starting humming along with me. [minute 2:30])

A hand fell on my shoulder, and a voice asked “Are you paying rent yet?“ I found a senior colleague standing in the line next to me, encountering the same tribulation. And for the next two hours, our paths wove together at the DMV. Here in line beside each other, there at the Windows 12 and 13. In the photo line. And through that moments, he kindly reminded me of God’s goodness over the past two decades. He celebrated with me the faithfulness of God in the lives of our friends. We both choked up a bit talking about how things could have been. We spoke with anticipation of how the lessons we’ve learned will impact our care for people in the future.

I was reminded of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

[In the grace of the DMV line fellowship], We are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth. There God dealt with us, and there He still deals with us, our needs and our sins, in judgment and grace.

Life Together

I applied for a new license. Yes, but I walked away from the line grateful, blessed by the grace of God through His gifts of friendship, of fellow servants, and of life together. And in that moment, I thanked God for the brief cathedral that was the DMV.

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