Friday, February 26, 2016

A Humility Born of Fire

We are several weeks into Lent.  Are you feeling bad yet?  We can experience Lent as a time of sober self-reflection leading to self-recrimination leading to a guilty discouragement.  A Lenten observance driven by guilt has little power to transform us, and that is the point of Lent after all:  transformation.  On the other hand, a Lenten observance driven by a humility born of honesty opens a door to change.
I learned about humility six months into my marriage.  I came into the marriage with a 1980 Datsun 210 station wagon.  The car had no optional equipment whatsoever.  I installed a radio myself.  I made floor mats out of AstroTurf remnants and upgraded to radial tires at some point. This car was the very picture of basic transportation.  My wife came into the marriage with a recently-painted 1979 Pontiac Grand Prix with air conditioning, an automatic transmission, and quite likely the last working 8-track player in America.  It was a nice ride.
One day while she was at work, I decided to replace the fuel filter in her car.  The job turned out to be more difficult than I had imagined.  So I gave up and retightened the fuel line, planning to take it to a professional. As I retightened the fuel line, I heard a distinctive “creak.”  I thought this was the sound of a tightly connected joint.

When I started the car, I found the “creak” was not the sound of a tightly connected joint; rather it was the sound a metal fuel line makes when you crack it.  The engine began to shoot gasoline onto an increasingly hot exhaust manifold.  Within a few moments the engine was on fire.  As the engine kept pumping more gasoline onto the manifold, flames engulfed the car.  A pumper truck came and put out the fire.  What had quite likely been the last working 8-track player in America was now toast.  As I stood there looking at the charred relic, the firefighter said:  “So now we’ll see if she really loves you.”  I suggested he not become a grief counselor.
I went to pick up Debbie at work and with sobs told her I had incinerated up her car.  There were no recriminations, lectures, or icy silences.  That weekend we bought a car, one with an automatic transmission, a radio, and air conditioning.  These were accommodations I needed to make.

I learned about humility that day.  I am not perfect.  I have made other mistakes since then, and I am sure I still have a few more mistakes in me. Being forgiven for destroying something precious gave to me the freedom to live my life at ease, not always fearful of error.  I knew that when I messed up, I would still be accepted, trusted, and loved.

This is economy of Lent.  We take an honest look at ourselves, owning up to the destructive things we have done and the good things we have left undone; and we realize that we are not done messing up.  We make this candid appraisal within the larger frame of God’s mercy and continuing love for us.  God has not given up on us.  So we do not give up on ourselves, nor do we give up on those around us.  In this fertile framework newness can be birthed in us and in others.  Lent is about new and better things growing out of the failures of our living.