Often my most memorable penny finds for the week serve as punctuation marks in a conversation I’m having with myself, someone else, or God. They’re the period at the end of a sentence, the dot below a question mark, or my favorite – the dot below a dash that makes an exclamation point! That was the case with my most notable find last week.
I left the house early Friday morning to take my car into the dealer. I hadn’t had any coffee because I’d offered to buy Starbucks for my ride home. This meant I was a sleepy lady sans make-up hiding behind sunglasses when I was checking in at the Toyota dealership. I was taking the car in to have the transmission serviced. I recently hit the 60,000 mile mark on my beloved little red Prius and the guys at the oil change place kept insisting it was due for not just a transmission service but a whole bunch of other flushes, fluid changes, etc. I’m not car illiterate but close, so after several oil changes where I was advised these things needed to be done I made an appointment at the dealer.
This put me in front of Jason my “service advisor” without the benefit of any understanding of what really needs to be done and no caffeine – a double whammy that I’m assuming will cost me a small fortune. Jason, who has already checked in several vehicles with coffee mug in hand, is ready for anything. “Hello, Ms. Davis what can we do for you today. Well, I hit 60,000 miles and brought her in to have the transmission serviced and anything else she needs. The oil change guys have been on me about it. Oh really, why?” he asks. “I guess when they looked under the hood they could tell.” At this point I think Jason is not a good “advisor” because he just doesn’t seem to get it. Frustration is starting to creep in.
This is when Jason puts his clipboard and coffee down and says, “Well, Ms. Davis I’d be happy to service your transmission but it doesn’t need it. You’re not due for that until you hit 100,000 miles. You’re not due for anything at this point. Why do you think they suggested you come in?” Completely jolted awake now by what I considered a condescending question I said, “I’m assuming they noticed something was amiss when they changed my oil so I’d appreciate it if you would check. Do you NOT want to do the work?” I ask. “Oh no Mam!” Jason replies. “I’d be happy to do the work but I don’t want to take your money and do something your car doesn’t need. Can I show you why?” Off come the sunglasses now so I can give Jason a look and say, “Yes, of course.”
This is when my first lesson in hybrid technology and what my car needs and doesn’t need begins with a look under the hood. A hood that opens to reveal an engine unlike any other car I’ve ever owned. Yes, I’ve looked under the before but only briefly so I could replace the wiper fluid once. With Jason by my side though I learn that the guys at the oil change place are nuts (or crooks) because you can’t actually inspect the transmission fluid or any of the other five things they said they’d “inspected” on a Toyota Prius.
Thoroughly embarrassed because now not only do I look like the stereotypical woman without any car sense my blonde hair isn’t pulled back and keeps falling in my face. Plus, I get to tell my ride home why I don’t have to leave the car. Even the cost savings at this point did little to ease the double dose of feeling stupid.
Then Jason, in all his earnestness, drove the point home even more by asking, “Have you ever read the manual for your car?” OMG no I’m thinking, but then I remember once pulling the manual out to figure out how to sync my smart phone with the car’s Bluetooth capability. Smug little Jason is waiting for an answer and before I can come up with some explanation I give in and say, “Not really, I’ve just relied on folks I think know more than me to tell me what’s what.”
Jason laughs and says, “You and a lot of other folks, even men. Don’t worry about it. I’m glad I could help and save you some money. Don’t be embarrassed. The next time the guys at the lube place tell you that you need something done ask them what they base that on? Insist they show you why they are making that recommendation.” With my head spinning on overload now I nod and say, “Thanks I suppose that holds true for a lot of things in this world doesn’t it?” To which my new friend Jason the philosopher service advisor says, “Yes Mam, it does.”
As I turn to head out and give my ride the news God put his exclamation point on Jason’s comments with two pennies sitting next to the bright yellow safety cone on the ground below his station. I wanted to walk away and not pick them up but of course I can’t. Point made, point taken, with pennies to prove it.
I drove home and thought about how this relates to my spiritual life at the moment. After a 40 plus years of wandering through the Scriptures following various models for studying them I decided to set off on my own journey. No reading plans, no topical studies, and no commentaries just reading, thinking, and meditating on God’s word. It’s been awesome, every day I feel like God’s word is richer and more meaningful to me than ever. Like manna that just appears it’s a transcendent feast I look forward to. I can’t get enough and it’s the only fattening food I consume that doesn’t tip the scale in the wrong direction. I feel like a lean mean fighting machine that is doing battle with years of misconceptions.
What I’ve realized in my walk through the Bible is that a tremendous number of believers, teachers, preacher’s aren’t very mindful about what they’re actually saying. They throw out Scripture like a handful of random wildflower seeds unconcerned they might grow into something less than beautiful that takes over a garden. Just like mint growing uncontained will take over a flower bed so will one planting of the wrong Scripture in a person’s life.
I don’t say this with animosity toward anyone. Lord knows, I’m guilty as charged. Applying the Scriptures to life is challenging. A person can study their whole life and still be confounded. This is exactly why we have to be careful though, because an idea can lodge itself into our consciousness so deeply that years later we trip over it without realizing where it even came from.
For me one of those has been the often quoted Scripture, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” These beautiful inspiring words spoken by Jesus to His disciples are taught to children in Sunday school all the time. Tiny little mustard seeds are put in lockets and worn around necks as a reminder that with the smallest amount of faith miracles can happen. True indeed, but what happens when this little bit of Scripture doesn’t deliver what is seemingly promises. For years I struggled with the idea that my faith must have been smaller than a mustard seed because I wasn’t seeing mountains moved in the lives of my children. Why weren’t they being healed when I had the faith to pray for it every day? I was telling the mountain to move and it wasn’t.
Putting the question to lots of different teachers and preachers only net more snippets of Scripture offered to give me hope and encouragement as an anecdote to my disappointment with God. Sadly, nobody ever suggested re-visiting that verse in light of the larger context of the Biblical narrative which is a story. A story so compelling it rescues us from nit-picky debates that can drive people mad and split churches. A story that could help me understand in time what healing might look like and what part my faith had in it, if any. A story that is still unfolding because it hasn’t ended. The work of redeeming all things is not done.
That would have been something to sink my teeth. A perspective bigger than my circumstances that could have lifted me out of the pit better than a flimsy rope ladder knotted with verses. This is why Jason’s comments struck me. The guy was telling me to read the manual for my car because then I could understand the technology behind it and why you don’t treat it like other cars. It’s not an F-150 pick-up it’s a smart car and requires a little effort on my part to understand. If I can’t conceptualize how the car is designed I can’t understand what’s required to care for it. I can’t really even appreciate why I love it so much.
The same holds true for the God I love more than my car or my children. Without reading his manual and wrestling to understand it on my own I can’t fully appreciate what it means to ride through life with Him. I don’t know where I fit in the story and I don’t know what I have to do to take care of our partnership. Jason and the two pennies sitting under his desk drove that point home so now I’ve got even more reading to do. Two manuals both of which I need plenty of divine intervention to understand!