This one comes to us from Kate Campbell.

I wake up early one Saturday morning and drive over to the tiny strip center where my day’s worth of self-imposed detention awaits me. When I walk into the office, a home-makeover show is playing on the tiny TV screen. A stocky man at the front desk asks me if I’ve filled out my paperwork. He hands me a form, and I look around at my fellow students. We’re all here at the DUI/Defensive Driving School of Midtown, paying our $95 penance for a defensive driving course. Our reward is six hours in a classroom with peeling linoleum floors and a DVD player from the 1990s. The classroom is commanded by a deep-voiced retiree with a sweater vest who starts off telling us the most recent annual statistics of traffic fatalities. He promises kindly not to berate us or condemn us, but it feels somewhat ironic: we’re here because we’ve already been condemned.

One of us is an international student from China; one of us is a teenager caught speeding. One of us is an auto mechanic with a strong smell of tobacco; one of us is a disinterested kid donning headphones and a hoodie; and there’s me, a 24-year-old woman working for a missions agency. Some carry purses, some carry Gatorade bottles, and some come with nothing but crossed arms and a scowl. We come from all backgrounds and economic statuses. I have images of the 80s cult classic, The Breakfast Club, and wonder if we would emerge from this day having trashed a library and confessed our deepest secrets to strangers.

The thing that brings us together is our offenses. We are transgressors. Our upbeat instructor asks us, “What brings you here today?” It’s a card-table confessional. We take turns, each reporting our traffic trespasses, confessing our speeding sins. We have all transgressed in different ways, to varying degrees, yet we are united by one thing: we are all offenders.

My turn comes, and I tell them about my car accident the week of Thanksgiving, and the subsequent yet unrelated speeding ticket the week after. I tell them of my come-to-Jesus moment, right after the cop left me with my speeding ticket, when I realized I couldn’t keep this kind of driving up—and definitely couldn’t afford that kind of lifestyle anymore. Eventually, the instructor clicks a few buttons on the DVD player and rolls tape on an outdated movie clip discouraging texting and driving.

In between cheesy movie clips, our instructor “lectures” briefly on various topics, but he is truly gifted in the art of rabbit trails. As the six hour class goes on, I can’t help but get more and more frustrated at the instructor. Aren’t you supposed to be teaching me something? If I have to sit here for six hours, shouldn’t I at least get something out of it? Shouldn’t I actually learn to be a better driver? Instead he’s telling stories of his trip to Las Vegas, showing us pictures of his Italian mastiff, and divulging tales of his antics of yesteryear. Am I going to actually learn anything?

Around 3:30, our instructor realizes that we have only thirty minutes remaining, so he announces he’s going to do a review for us. This seems like a good idea, considering we have a state-mandated exam, upon which depends our passing, granting us the coveted certificate we “earn” from this course. As he reviews the material, I realize he’s reading directly from the exam, listing the multiple choice questions, hinting toward option D, for one, or option C, for another. At one point, he straight up tells us that both of the true-false questions are true. I can’t believe it. My mouth drops open at one point. Was he seriously just giving us the answers? After I endured this class for six hours, he wouldn’t even give me the chance to prove my competence and earn this dang certificate? I felt strangely wronged. Let me prove myself!

Yet in the midst of my dismay, I felt a quiet sense of Gospel echoing in that sparse room with moldy ceilings, choking out my sense of superiority. This is exactly how Jesus treats us. We walk in as transgressors, full of sin. We have nothing to our name but a citation, an offense. He has a lot of stories to tell us, and sometimes they don’t make sense, and we don’t always follow exactly where he’s taking us. But when it comes time to prove ourselves at the end of the day, He gives us all the answers. We pass with a 100%, and we sign our certificate to verify we’ve been here, and we’ve passed, by the grace of God.

I walk out with my certificate and get in my car. To my right and left are two other fellow graduates. For a moment, I hesitate—what’s going to happen when a bunch of bad drivers try to pull out of a parking lot all at the same time? I smile as I put my seatbelt on, looking at my certificate, knowing that even if I get in a horrible car wreck right as I pull out of this lot, or even if I have perfect driving record for the rest of my life, either way, the Gospel has cleared me of all my offenses, and I only pass because Jesus gave me all the answers. Or rather, He took the test for me, went to court for me, paid my fine for me, and I get to keep His spotless driving record as my own. That seems worth $95 bucks to me.