Our first step away from God is when we become unthankful.
The Broken Fuel Door
I sat with head down, avoiding the looks I assumed were coming my way. The pressure of eyes was almost a physical weight on the back and side of my head. I sank lower in the seat, attempting to hide underneath the bill of my cap. Embarrassment tinged my neck a hot pink I was sure could be seen across the parking lot. The longer I sat waiting, more people would see the open sign of my degradation and shame. How had I let myself get here? What could I do to hide my saddened and sunken condition from their judgmental eyes? Every nice car, truck, and SUV that entered the parking lot ridiculed my dilemma by the sheer newness of their appearances……….
You see…….this is very difficult, please bear with me………….…the fuel door on our car is hanging loose. Not just hanging loose, I mean the upper hinge is broken and it will not stay closed. We have had it taped closed but the damp, cold weather has rendered our sleek piece of black tape hors de combat. Now the door just hangs forlornly like a broken wing in the breeze waving at passerby and inviting their ridicule.]
The fuel door is just a symbol of our present state of affairs. A battered, used, and sometimes abused old car, which I am still struggling to pay for. A truck that was just released from the hospital today with a large price on its head. Another borrowed car to get us all to work until the truck is running again. This fodder for a sad country song is actually our current life situation. Struggling, worrying, stretching, working, hoping, and ……comparing.
As I sit hiding under my hat, one nice vehicle after another slides into the lot around me. New. Shiny. One was left running while a mom entered the building to pick up her children as if the expense of gasoline were mere pocket change not even worthy of a budget category in her home. I imagine all of them looking sideways at me, taking in my battered old car and its broken wing with a chuckle and perhaps a shake of the head. Maybe they wonder if I am a stalker of some sort. A junky old guy in a junky old car up to junky no good. I want to crawl into the floorboard and never emerge into the sunlight of reality again. (Begin chorus here: “Gloom, despair, and agony on me! Deep dark depression, excessive misery! If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all….. Gloom! Despair! And agony on me.” Kudos to fans of the old HeeHaw show for recognizing that old staple song).
Now, let me paint a different picture for you, as you dry the tears away. I am surrounded by the blessings of God. I drive a car that cost me much less than it should, with plenty of time allowed to pay for it, at absolutely no interest. The truck I own debt-free has been repaired twice with the same deal: pay me when you can, no interest. I am just returning from a day at work, exhausted but entirely fulfilled. I have interacted with young, pliable lives, I have given instruction and encouragement, and witnessed it making a difference. I helped a co-worker with a difficult task and heard the gratitude in their voice as they sincerely thanked me. I enjoy being valued and respected by those I work alongside. We are a team, and there are no big “I’s” nor little “you’s”. I am here to pick up my wife of almost 24 years after she is finished with work. She works 5 minutes from our home, with her precious mother as her boss, at a daycare. She worked there years ago, is familiar with the organization, and practically had the job for the asking. When we leave we will return home to our 4 boys, two older that also work, and two younger, that never cease to bring us great joy. We will be joined for supper tonight by our only daughter and her husband, who himself is like a fifth son. We will cook, eat, laugh, play cards, laugh some more, and Becky and I will probably get beaten. Again. When it is time for bed we will rest in a rented home with plenty of space for us, that we only found and were able to rent by a direct miracle of God, through a precious friend that didn’t really know us when we moved back here 3 years ago, but took us under his wing and sought to care for us time and again.
Both this portrait highlighting little drops of grace and the earlier one of unparalleled woe are the same point in time. I sat just a few days ago wallowing in self-pity as I compared my car to other cars, myself to others, my circumstances to others, my life to others. In the comparison game, we always lose. We lose sight of reality and we lose the perspective of gratitude. We become jealous of God's goodness in the lives of others and resentful of what they have. And when our focus is on what we DON’T have, we cannot enjoy what we DO have, and the One Who so generously provided it. Years ago my pastor would often make a statement that still stings today:
Our first step away from God is when we are unthankful.
When I assume the position of the fourth person of the Trinity and tell God the Father that He is being unfair; that God the Son’s sacrifice wasn’t nearly enough to prove His love for me; that all the numerous miracles of provision and blessing I have enjoyed previously were not enough; that the comforting, guiding, and empowering presence of God the Holy Spirit is boring and unnecessary, and that I deserve more; then I have trampled on God’s love and care for me like a petulant child.
After I spent that afternoon drowning in childish sorrow, I felt embarrassed and ashamed. Not about my car’s state of brokenness, but my own. How many times have I compared myself to others and gained anything from it? When will I learn that I am loved and cherished by God, adequately provided for, blessed beyond description, surrounded by goodness, carried by mercy and grace, with eternity bubbling in my heart? When will the truth about possessions really sink in: “one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions” Luke 12:15 (HCSB).
Are you, too, guilty of comparing stuff and circumstances and appearances and performances? And are you as miserable as I was that day, and every other day I deal myself into the comparison game? Then why don’t we all renounce the shame of the game? Let’s all take the high road wrought by the writer of the Hebrews and …”lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us..(and) let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2 HCSB). He is the only standard worthy of following, and since there is no possible way I can measure up His grace carries me along. When I become seriously focused on conforming to Him, comparing myself with others happens less and less until it becomes a distant, foggy memory.
Until then I am pursuing Jesus, and enjoying life, and putting another piece of tape on the fuel door of the car. I know, I know, why not just replace the door and hinge? I could, of course. But why rob myself of such a poignant reminder of God’s goodness?
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