Forget Fault

 Once upon a time, a family bought a wonderfully clean car for a steal-of-a-deal and considered themselves fortunate to have gotten so lucky… until the car had a catastrophic coolant failure at a traffic light resulting in a repair bill that cost more than the car’s Blue Book value.

These Christian folk had a choice to make: to accept the situation with grace as a “Life Happens” moment while trusting God for the next step or to do what most of us do when something goes wrong: find someone to blame.

The reasoning goes something like this: If something is wrong, it has to be someone’s fault. What we actually mean is,  someone else’s fault.

This family had several blame options. They could have blamed the guy who sold them the car, the driver for failing to check the hood, the mechanic for not pointing out a potential defect, themselves for being gullible consumers or God for not preventing the whole thing.

Needing to assign blame before we can move on is a failure to grapple with an uncomfortable truth. Sometimes things really do “just happen,” at least from a human perspective. There is no “fault.”

In the case of that family car, the cause of the problem appeared to be metal fatigue. A metal part suddenly failed.

It’s the rare person who can simply accept something like that and move toward a solution without bitterness, ranker and causing a helluva stink. In corporate-speak, such stinks are known as “venting,” translated as having a fit just to make yourself feel as though you’ve done something. Nothing good ever comes of it, of course, which brings me to the next point.

From a Christian viewpoint even when we can find the smoking gun, what does it really matter? Being able to point to someone and say “whodunit” may make a nice wrap for an Agatha Christie Poirot mystery,” but it doesn’t fix problems, heal relationships or promote spiritual growth.

Maybe the question isn’t  who is to blame but “What can I learn from this?” God always wants us to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  (2 Peter 3:18)  And He uses all of life to accomplish this end.

Our persistence in placing blame is really pointless. (It hasn’t done anything constructive for me.) We’re all guilty of being human. We are faulty creatures who make mistakes, despite our best intentions. When things go wrong, as they sometimes do, my challenge is to take it personally, to see it as opportunity to press into God a little closer, to listen more intently for His voice, to become more God-focused and less self-reliant.

Ultimately, we Christians are called to put our trust in God, not in our circumstances whether they be good or bad. Life really does happen in unpredictable ways, and we can make ourselves crazy by demanding to know the why.

As time goes by, I am learning to leave the mysteries of life in the hands of a faithful, all-wise God, believing that through life’s struggles He is “working in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13)

The Great Car Debate

My teen-aged son is desperate to have his own car now that he’s a worker bee. Realistically, we parents expect him to put up his own money. He doesn’t see why we can’t “just buy” him a car.

It’s pretty simple to us. Nothing in life is free. Nobody “just bought” us cars. I got my first car courtesy of an enlisted brother-in-law whose friend was deploying to Germany and couldn’t take it with him. I got a big-engine, leather interior Cutlass Supreme with power everything for a couple hundred dollars. The rear windshield leaked. My husband got his first car, an oil-burning Vega, for a few hundred as well.

Being almost free meant, these cars weren’t expected to be in mint condition. We were happy just to be riding. Our son considers our first cars clunkers. His friends, after all, drive the coveted Mustang, BMW or Lexus or lowly but new Hondas. And so we’ve been inundated with an email stream of acceptable luxury models: Volvo 850s, SAABs, Acura. On the advice of our trusted mechanic we’ve steered clear of these high mileage potential nightmares.

Our latest suggestion – an affordable, American-made, one-owner only driven to church on Sundays by a little old lady (not exactly but close!) – has been rejected as not “stylish.”

The “Great Car Debate” continues, reminding me of something I heard a preacher say: “It is possible to be madly in love with someone you should never marry.”

Men fall in love with cars as well as women. And it’s a good thing to avoid “marrying” a lemon no matter how lovely. Automotive lemons can be detailed to look pristine even after floating through a New Orleans flood or surviving a frame-bending wreck. CarMax showrooms like to display these beautiful wrecks – the kind they pledge not to sell – and to reveal their cleverly disguised flaws.

While there are lemon laws for cars, when it comes to women, there is no legal protection for unwise choices. Whether it’s women or cars, we hope to teach our son that it’s wise to consider the end from the beginning. So what if he can swing a car payment or buy the car outright? What matters is whether he can maintain it over time: pay the insurance, make the repairs.

The Bible says, “Count the cost.” (Luke 14:28)

Just as a car’s value is under the hood, a person’s true value is revealed in character. Like a rust bucket polished into showroom brilliance, people show well when we want to make an impression. Time tells the real story. Keep a car through a few oil changes and its quirks begin to show: the leaks, the squeaks, the controls that are a little wacko. In time, people reveal their true colors, too.

The message to our son: Avoid “buyers’ remorse.” It’s what happens when we’re sold on the sparkle, the new smell and the performance. We drive home and the reality of 48, 60 or even 72 months of payments sets in. We can’t believe we bought it! Can we take it back?

This doesn’t just happen to young boys. I heard a middle-aged caller to a financial radio program confess to being mesmerized by a new car she purchased in a whirl of emotion. She later realized that she works two full weeks of every month to make the payment and barely is able to cover other bills. She was looking for a way out.

The way out, of course, is to do what she obligated herself to do: pay the price. Here’s hoping we can convince our son to first, count the cost.

Willing to trade?

Passed a church marquee that read, “Jesus takes trade-ins.”

A trade-in is a transaction. Both parties have to be willing to do business. Jesus will exchange my rusty, wreck of a life for a brand-new one free of charge. He already paid the price in full.

It’s a great deal, if I can get past the notion that I’m giving up something worth keeping.   Not recognizing the old life for the decaying wreck that it is, the human tendency is to try to salvage parts we consider still valuable.

But Christianity is an “either/or” proposition. If I’m in Christ, the old has gone, the new has come. The Bible says, If I try to hang on to my life, I lose it. If I lose it for Christ’s sake, I preserve it. (Luke 17:33)

My candy-apple red Volvo V70 provides an excellent auto object lesson. It’s an old car. I need a new one. I’m thinking trade-in…maybe.

My Volvo is about the age of my youngest child. (To be totally honest, it’s not “my” car. Technically, it  has morphed into the “new driver safe car.”) I love the red wagon. It shines like new, despite its full sun parking space. It has buttery leather upholstery (the driver’s seat is a little worn, but the rest is pristine) and heated seats that still heat. It has a sunroof, too, and a good audio system.

The best part is the Volvo sports suspension and peppy zip! When I need to kick it, say to get out of the path of an 18-wheeler on I-40, it’ll flat out go. Need I say more?

Why get rid of the car, if it’s so great?

Time takes its toll. Parts eventually wear out. Recommended repairs amount to more than Kelley Blue Book value. I could make the investment, but one collision with some texting-while-driving dimwit and I could lose the car in a junk yard total.

Gas is another drawback: Premium grade only, currently priced at more than $4 a gallon and climbing. A newer, greener car would practically pay for itself in better gas mileage and warrantied repairs.

In my head, I know hanging on to the old car is blocking a new purchase. In my heart, however, parting with the Volvo is like leaving a dysfunctional relationship. I know there’s no future in it, but it’s familiar like an old pair of slippers I should have tossed long ago.

To go forward, like Paul, I have to start  “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…” 

Sooner or later, everyone who is confronted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ has to make a similar decision. Stick with the old life with the hidden issues under the shiny hood or  — in an act of faith  — trade it for the new life Christ offers?

Embracing change means accepting sacrifice, including parting with things we’ve loved. Trade-ins, after all, are package deals. All or nothing. Just as no car dealer is going to accept my Volvo piecemeal  (unless he’s a junk dealer), Christ isn’t looking for partial surrender. He wants it all.

Are you willing to trade?