Getting Under The Hood

I don’t know if this is even remotely true for everybody, but for me I like systems of thought. I like for things to function well, to run smoothly. I hate it when my car breaks down—in fact, I don’t know if anything gets me quite as mad as when there is mechanical failure. I guess it is because of the expectation I place on the machinery to do it’s job well so I don’t have to worry about it. And when it isn’t doing its job it is just one more thing…. And let’s be honest here, I suck at maintenance. I regularly drive my car way over the miles that are recommended for an oil change. I check the dipstick at the gas station when filling up my tank. I know enough not to let the oil level drop too low.

Suffice it that I like stuff to work and work well. And the analogy breaks down in a couple of places as I try to apply it the way that I interact with life. I mean, no humanly devised system really can account for how stuff works or should work—at least in the arena of our complex existence. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t try to find one. Lord knows, I tried. Number one, we may be considered machines but we aren’t really mechanical in that strict sense. Doesn’t mean that we don’t perform “maintenance.” It is so clearly evident that diet and exercise and good sound sleep really are what our bodies need most. And there are some deeper options that seem to be in play a lot with us–it manifests in how we relate to other people, how we relate to our vocations, with money. You get the idea. And sometimes we need to have an expert look under our “hood” if only to help us understand why we do what we do. Sometimes their prescriptions work at other times they are only a beginning. Really our “problems” can be persistently elusive. If they don’t get corrected great damage can occur. I know this from personal experience. Many of us are taught to ignore and hope the problem will just go away. Damn, this is getting painful….

Another part of this, as I think more deeply about the analogy, is that sometimes a mechanic can suggest a fix and we think that we really know what is best for us. This is where I get into the most trouble. You see, every time I am confronted with some deep behavior I run away and I think, “let me fix this myself.”

I have this ’88 Isuzu Trooper. One of its notorious mechanical failings was a design flaw in the cylinder head. Whenever the head gasket blows invariably it happens between the second and third cylinder. Right now, I am strapped for cash, so I am reduced to fixing it myself. However, I have done some minor repair work before. And I have had a friend help me repair another truck I had years ago. I have some mechanical skill. I also have access to books describing the exact steps necessary to repair any problems.

So, I dive right in.

Here is the thing. I quickly get into it and realize that there are a lot of wires here and I really need to pay attention to what is going on. But I run into a difficult part and I am having trouble getting to some bolts and I realize that I need a special tool to get to it. Dutifully, I begin to swear. It is also really, really hot this time of year in Missouri and my frustration level begins to rise geometrically. “Damn it all!” I say out loud. And I begin to walk away.

This isn’t a bad thing, mind you. I think that it is important to give ourselves the freedom to clear our heads from time to time. I know I need to a lot these days. But I really began to wonder if there wasn’t a deeper thing going on here. So this became quite the teachable moment for me.

Mindfulness is a concept that I have begun to engage more with recently. I have done a lot of work internally to figure out what are the subconscious, pre-contemplative thoughts that are motivating my behavior. You know, the “did I just do that?” response. This is where I become really, really deeply honest with you, dear reader. I hope that you will indulge me. I recognized in that moment, when my frustration was really high that my heart (who I learned is really on my side) was telling me, “You know, this is how you have responded to a lot of things in your life, especially your marriage.”

“I don’t know if you realize this now, but can you remember when x occurred that you ran away from that too? Have you really thought about why that’s so? Here is what I think…”. So I took some time to realize that yeah, I really made a bad decision there. I don’t know how to fix the past, but I believe that I can make some steps forward to be better.

I had someone from my past point to me in a recent email how deeply selfish I have been. That hurt. And rather than respond, I had to let that sink in. I had to own what his perception was of me. Doesn’t necessarily mean that I agree with the guy, but I wanted to pause and listen and not dismiss it as being untrue. In reality I think we do go through life without any mindfulness about our motives or how we are really blind to the things we do. Good grief, I know I have been.

I have also learned that the fog I lived in has really done way more harm than good and that protective blanket that I have carried around for so long is really starting to stink. In other words, I have to really own that my perceptions aren’t really accurate that my behaviors speak far more loudly than anything that I say I believe on the surface. And I wish that I had a specific set of steps that I could share with you that would guarantee your success as a person, that would set you free from any kind of pain or hardship. But…you and I both know that is just pie in the sky.

I ran into that the other evening when I was chatting on the phone with another friend. I consider myself a Christian, deeply committed to believing and following the teachings of the Jew from Galilee. Not because I believe he is a good teacher–he is–but because he is God. Back to the conversation….

We were talking about our God-concepts, the ways in which we believed God related to us. And I confessed that a large part of my framework held to this belief that Savior–a term ascribed to Jesus–meant something to me that I don’t think was entirely accurate. And that was because I re-interpreted this whole idea of Savior to fit my worldview and belief that I needed to be “rescued” rather than “saved.” Too nuanced? Let me try to explain. (Reader beware: lots of Bible-stuff here. But it isn’t apologetic.)

In our conversation I pointed out a couple of stories where I thought this was the case. For instance, remember the story of Daniel being in the lion’s den? Does he get rescued? Yes. But the dude was lying among the lions for awhile. Or Shadrach, Meshech, and Abed-nego, three dudes thrown into a furnace that was so hot that it actually torched the guys putting the three into the furnace in the first place (which is fascinating to me because the three kept on going when they obviously had to see their guards flaming up like kabobs) Anyway, they went into the fire. And the record is that when they were in there there was another guy with them. Put in three and they saw four–dancing around, no less!

Take away? Well what happened to me is that these stories felt so far removed from my actual experience because I thought I kept plugging in the right things, you know the ingredients of “faith” (stuff like prayer, bible study, church attendance, accountability….) but my life wasn’t happening the way I thought it should–at least I wasn’t as happy as I thought I should be. Result? I bailed on the process because I thought “Savior” meant “Rescue” in the sense that I didn’t have to face the consequences of my choices. Practical Theology 101: you reap what you sow. So I am careful now about how I view God’s interaction with me. And some may disagree with my view. But that’s okay. I know where I am. Can’t really be anywhere else. In other words, I view quite differently the difficulty I now face because I realize that the relationship I have with God is one of father to son, and that the stuff that happens to me doesn’t threaten nor diminish that in any way. Rather they become teachable moments that any parent experiences themselves. And I believe that God is infinitely patient with my failings, as any parent would be.

So, I am deeply comforted at where I am even though it seems crazy.

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