Two weeks ago I took my car in for an ordinary service. When I collected it at the end of the day, I started to drive away when I heard a distinct chainsaw-type sound emanating from the engine. I decided it was not yet time to leave the mechanic’s shop.
The problem lay with a pulley which was replaced last week but, upon installation, the mechanic discovered yet another problem, this time with the air conditioner. The pulley problem had been hiding the underlying issue with the air conditioner all along.
Then by startling coincidence, the clutch failed. I took it back to the mechanic and they could not find a single thing wrong with it. The long and the short of it is, I have spent quite a bit of time and money on this car over the past few weeks. It has driven me crazy.
And still it is not fixed.
You can imagine my feelings. I was frustrated. I was irritated. I was nervous. Not just because of the inconvenience of interminable servicing, nor the knowledge that some problems may repeat themselves at any time. I was also annoyed that all this running around to mechanics’ shops was eating into my precious writing time.
I started to question the value of the car and whether it was worth the ongoing repair efforts. I started wondering whether I might be better off dumping the car altogether and upgrading to a new model. I imagined that my new fantasy car would be a flawless functioning machine, never to suffer the mechanical faults of my current car.
It was when I was reflecting on the process of car repairs this morning that I was struck by inspiration. (Trust a writer. They will find inspiration anywhere – even in a deteriorating vehicle.) I got to thinking about how our relationships can be like cars.
Stay with me. A well-tended car can develop unforeseen problems. Parts can suffer general wear and tear. Under unusual pressure, more things can go wrong with the engine, potentially leading to a breakdown. A neglected car will ultimately fail.
The same is true of our friendships and relationships, including those within the Church. Our relationships can be fraught with frustration. They are susceptible to communication breakdowns and unforeseen problems. Even in well-functioning relationships, things can stop working for no apparent reason.
Sometimes we react to these breakdowns in similar ways as we do to cars. We get frustrated with each other. We can’t understand why things aren’t working. (That’s certainly the case with me and cars.) We want things to be fixed, but sometimes the solutions are more complex than they first appear. We don’t realise that one surface problem is really hiding another, deeper problem.
Running around in an attempt to repair our relationships can be an annoying, stressful, disheartening and exhausting process. We can imagine that life would be easier without these relationships. If we could just find some other friends – if we could just opt out of this relationship – if we could just shop around for a better church – life would be fixed.
Perhaps it is fortunate that effort and humility is required to make relationships work. It forces us out of autopilot relating habits into a world of real, messy, unpredictable relationship with one another. It reminds me of the God who steps into our leaky, rattly, breakdown lives and sticks it out with us.
My dodgy car has become a wonderful reminder of God’s patience and grace. Help us, God, to stick it out with each other, even when it drives us crazy.