I have no idea what the origins of the phrase, “taking the back seat,” might be. We could be narrow-minded and assume it has to do with cars. But a little thought would suggest buggies also had back seats. One could climb into a horse and buggy mode of transportation and still land in the back seat.
Whatever the origins of this phrase, it has at least two clear implications. First of all, you are along for the ride. It does not matter whether it is a buggy, car, bus, or plane; you are along for the ride. And the second implication is that you are not in control. The reins are not in your hands. The steering wheel is in someone else’s hands.
Of course, those examples have to do with real rides in life. But I also realize there are metaphorical rides in life. Often in situations, circumstances, and relationships, I realize I am taking the back seat. Sometimes I willingly step into the back seat. Sometimes, I seem to be thrown into the back seat! In either case, I am along for the ride. And I am not in control. And when you are in the back seat, there is usually not much concern for how you are feeling about it!
In practical terms I experience this now when one or both of my daughters come home. Often they will take the reins. I am on the passenger side or relegated to the back seat. Once upon a time, this never happened. For sixteen years, they were too young to drive. And then for a little while, they were too deferential to assume they were driving and not me. And now---well, it is scoot over; I’m driving! Or they let me drive, but I know they do not approve.
With my understanding of spirituality, almost everything in life is related to the spiritual. At its base, life is either contributing to spiritual well being or detracting from it. So it is when life forces you into the back seat. And sooner or later (and often!), life forces you into the back seat. It may make some difference whether you choose to climb in the back, but the end result is the same. You are along for the ride and you have no control.
There are negative or unfortunate things which force the in-the-back-seat move. Things like sickness are sure bets. Anyone with a serious case of the flu knows this. The “back seat” in this case is the bed instead of the usual off to work. Sometimes, aging parents or infants force us into the back seat. Have a baby and you are along for the ride. Babies and aging parents unmercifully steal large amounts of time when you might otherwise choose more interesting things. Welcome to the back seat.
Sometimes it is not even for a laudable cause like babies and aging parents. Sometimes, we are forced into the back seat just because we were not chosen; we were dismissed, or were not even considered for something. Again we are along for the ride and not in control.
The spiritual lesson in this for me is “get used to it.” Much of the spiritual life will be lived in the back seat. It is an illusion to think I will always have the reins in my hands. It is fantasy to assume I can always take the wheel of my life. Once I was an infant and with any luck I might become an aging parent. In both cases I would not have assumed I had the reins. But at one level, I did…for my parents…and will…for my kids.
So one of my spiritual goals now is to settle into my back seat life. What I want to do is make sure the reins are in the hands of God. Oh, I know God does not really have hands. But if God assumes the front seat and sets the direction, I am quite fine with that. Indeed, that is a ride I want to have.
I just thought of the biblical guideline for this: “Not my will, but Thine.” I want to make those words real. And try not to be a “back seat driver!”