Jeremiah 18:3-4 (New Living Translation)
3 “So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. 4But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so the potter squashed the jar into a lump of clay and started again.”
The next few days are going to be crammed full of activities. Two of my grandchildren are visiting us and we’re going to be taking a day trip to Abilene, Kansas. While there we’re going to spend some time at the Eisenhower museum. That’ll give me a chance to tell the kids about the good old days when Ike was the president and I was the stickball champion of Chatham Street. I can almost see their eyes rolling as I type.
With all the busyness in mind, a summer re-run is in order. I wrote the piece that follows a good while ago after giving some thought to the idea that hits us all a few times in our lives. Would, we, if we could, change some of the things that happened in our lives.
My answer to that age-old question follows:
We had some very interesting discussions at our church’s men’s group last night. We’re still working our way through John Eldridge’s “Wild at Heart.”
The real show stopper came when we got to page 88 and read these words:
“First and foremost, we still need to know what we never heard, or heard so badly, from our fathers. We need to know who we are and if we have what it takes.”
Most of the guys had something to say here, but I just listened. Then I worked up the courage to speak. “I guess I had an advantage over you guys. My dad died before I can ever remember him so I never heard anything either good or bad from him. I didn’t have anywhere to go to get that affirmation, so I just moved into a world of ideas.”
I really believe that’s been a great advantage for me in life. I was pretty close to being a clean slate and in my world I had the freedom to develop my own outlook on life.
Maybe I’ll share more about that in some later post. But I need to move on to the meat of what’s on my mind.
The great fun in our discussions is that we wander around from here to there, much like the children of Israel, picking up manna as we do.
About half way through our discussions one of the guys said that a friend of his looked back on his life and said that he wouldn’t change a thing. I expressed surprise. Now I’ve heard people say that before, but in looking back at my life there are things I would change if I could. I expressed my surprise rather politely, with a modestly skeptical tone in my voice. “Ohhhhh…….reaaaallllly?” He returned the compliment. “You mean you would change some things in yours?”
“You betcha. There are a lot of things that I’ve regretted doing.”
“I understand, but those things made you who you are. You wouldn’t be who you are without them.”
“Well there are some I can think of that, if I changed them, wouldn’t change the essence of who I am today.”
I talked to my brother this morning and after hearing from him I think that what my friend was describing is what some folks call the “butterfly effect.” That’s the idea that a butterfly flapping his wings in Brazil has an impact on events in New England or somewhere else in the world. It’s an interesting notion, a bit to me like the idea that says that my body is actually a flea on a dog, and that if I were to look inward or outward far enough I’d find myself being one with the cosmos. I don’t confess any great insight into the idea, but I don’t think I need to. I’m relatively certain that I’m not a flea on a dog and I’m relatively certain that butterflies flapping their wings in Brazil three years ago didn’t cause three feet of snow to fall around my brother’s house.
Well, we debated the idea for a while and my friend asked me to give him some examples of things I would change without changing the essence of who I am today. I gave him two, both light-hearted, but one is a bit more substantial than the other.
The first one I thought of happened to me when I was a teenager working at a summer camp in New Hampshire. One of the weekly “treats” for the younger guys on the staff was to put on a water show for the campers. It usually amounted to some of the harmless, silly things that teenagers often do. My usual role in these events was to be one of the camp clowns. On this particular day one of the other guys came up with an inspiration. We would soak a towel in gasoline, stuff it into the back of my swimming trucks, and then set the towel on fire. Once that was done my job was to run toward the water as fast as I could with the other clowns, the Sandy Island fire department, in hot pursuit. Well it all seems so stupid now, but it was seemed absolutely inspired almost fifty years ago. I remember the whoosh as the match hit the gasoline. The next sensation I remember was HEAT. There was something uninspired in our inspiration; the towel started burning its way toward my hind most parts. Seeing that I ran as fast as I could toward the lake. My buddies thought it was hilarious. They laughed as they followed me. And the campers? They thought it was quite hilarious too. I finally made it to the water and it wasn’t a second too soon. As I came up from the water I could hear everyone applauding my performance.
Inspired? Of course not. Avoidable? Absolutely!
I told my friend that it was a performance the rest of my life could have done without. After hearing it I think he began to understand. But it took the second story to convince him that I was right.
The second came at an interesting point in my life. I had just become a Christian and everything in my life was changing. Old thing were passing away and all things were becoming new. But there were times, the oddest of times, when the old man would find his way back into the equations of my life and create problems for me.
I was living in Columbus, Ohio at the time. I was going to school and working full time at a trucking company. In the three months I’d been working I’d done quite well, getting a big promotion to become the terminal’s “chief dispatcher.” But I was intent on not getting the “big head.” My life was quite modest. My ex-wife and I lived in a small duplex and settled into there to live a quiet life. I drove an old fifty-seven Ford Fairline that my ex had gotten from her dad. It was more than adequate transportation.
Now I should have been happy with it all. But all it took was for one of the guys who reported directly to me at work to do one thing that got my competitive juices flowing. He came into work one night and pronounced proudly, “I bought a new car today, why don’t you come out to the parking lot to take a look at it.” So I did. I walked out with him and looked at the car. It was a metallic green Plymouth Satellite Regent station wagon. I saw it and it was lust at first sight. Then, I rationalized my lust instantly. “Think about it. This guy works for you, Dillon. You can’t drive around in a beat up old Ford while one of your employees is driving around in a BRAND NEW Plymouth. You need to get one for yourself.”
And so I did. Within two days I showed up at work and made my own pronouncement. “Well guys I went down to Bill Swad’s today and I got myself a royal blue Satellite Regent wagon.” Everyone was suitably impressed. We went outside and surveyed the “beauty.” Everyone “oohed” and aahhed.”
For a few weeks I felt that I was on top of the world. But the glory was short lived. Two months after I bought the car the starter went out. Fortunately the car was under warranty so the dealer replaced it. Two weeks later the starter went out again. The dealer said it was an odd circumstance, but assured me that sometimes even new starters go bad. Next I noticed a rumbling sound as I drove around. And accompanying the rumbling was a shimmy. I called the dealer and explained as best I could what was happening. “It feels like I’m driving around on square wheels,” I said. He seemed to know what the problem was as soon as I told him. “Yup…..Tires are out of round.”
“You mean they can actually go from round to square?”
“Well no, they’re just out of balance. Just bring ‘er in and we’ll make it right.”
Well, sure enough, they made it right. But then something else started to happen. The car began to squeal as I turned corners. Another trip to the dealer revealed that there was a crimped something or other that was pinching off the air supply to some other ‘somethinorother’ that made the car whistle like a tea kettle.
And so it went. I owned the car for a little more than two years and learned anything that could go wrong with a machine found its way to my doorstep. It coughed. It sputtered. It squealed. It hissed. It belched. But for the first year and a half I convinced myself these were just minor inconveniences. I would look at the car in the driveway and see it in all its regal blue splendor and tell myself that it was a carriage fit for a man of my means. It was blue and it cost more than the car my direct report’s. That was enough rationale for me to keep it.
In time, though, the minor inconveniences became bigger. The grace period was over. The transmission began to leak fluid. The dealer fixed it once…..And he fixed the same problem a second time. Then the engine developed a clicking sound. Then the flywheel had to be replaced. We’d come a long way from square wheels to an engine that was about to die an agonizing death. Yes, this regal blue beauty only had about thirty five thousand miles on it. It still looked beautiful. But it was dying a slow death.
The coup de grace came right on the heels of the onset of the clicking sound. I was on the way to a Pizza Hut with my kids. As the got about half way up one of the hills on the 7th Street Expressway I saw a plume of blue smoke in my rear view mirror. Then the car began to screech…..”Eeeeeeehhhhhhh!” My regal blue beauty was emitting its death rattle.
We managed to get the parking lot of the Pizza Hut. I don’t know how, but we did. By the time we got inside the “revelation” that had been escaping me for two and a half years hit me a freight train. My regal blue carriage was actually an albatross that had been hanging around my neck. I sat the kids down for their pizza and called the Chrysler-Plymouth dealer. I started by explaining to the service department that I needed to have my blue beauty towed. “Do you need it fixed?” the service manager asked.
“No, just come and get it, that’s all I need.”
“I don’t understand. You say you don’t want us to fix it?”
“Well I don’t care if you fix it or not. I just want you to come and get it.”
“Are you sure? Are you alright?”
“You bet I’m sure. This is between God and me and I think he’s won out, I’m really fine now. I’ve had a revelation.”
There was a long, pregnant pause. I sensed that the good man at the dealer didn’t quite grasp what was going on. “Trust me,” I said one last time. “Just come get the car and I’ll never bother you guys at Chrysler-Plymouth again as long as I live.”
“Are you saying you got a lemon?”
I thought for a moment. “Well, let me put it this way. If you come and get this thing and squeeze the hell out of it you’ll have enough lemonade to start a very large concession.”
I think by now you know the moral of my tale of woe. I never needed that car to begin with. The only thing that got me behind the wheel was lust, pure and simple. God knew it all along and He was tinkering with the object of my lust. “Now, Dillon,” you say. “He’s gracious and loving; He would never do something like that to someone He loves.” I don’t want to go crossways with you, dear reader, but I’ve found that Jesus was not only a master carpenter, but He is also an outstanding mechanic. I think He knows how to saw off a tooth or two on a flywheel or crimp a hose or make the valves rattle. I learned from the experience that lust is not a solid lifestyle foundation.
When I was done I think my friend grasped what I was trying to tell them. This was something I could have learned some other way without changing the essence of who I am today. I think the contest of wills I had for those two and a half years could have been over in no time if I’d only been wise enough to confront the problem early on. Read the following account from Jacob’s life and substitute my name for his and you’ll see what I mean:
Genesis 32:24-28 (New International Version)
“24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak. ”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name? ”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, [a] because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
In the end I told my friend I would gladly exchange those two and a half years of grief for two out of three falls with the Almighty and a sixty minute time limit. I’d have settled for cauliflower ears or a pug nose or a limp if I could make it happen. And I don’t think that in doing it that I’d corrupt the whole world or cause a whirlwind in Kansas. I think I would have still met Nancy and I’ll still be living here in Emporia, Kansas. I’d have still been telling a story with the same point last night. The lesson learned would still be the same. The only difference would be that I’d be talking bout a one hour ‘whoopin’ rather than a two and a half year struggle against a car with square wheels.