It's The Small Things

03.04.11 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[2]

It’s the small things in life that often remind us of the bigger truths we sometimes forget.  Maybe not forget so much as overlook.  The little foibles we often see as inconveniences have the potential to help us understand the big picture, so often lost in our “can’t see the forest for the trees” world.  I had one of those moments a few weeks ago when I went to get my driver’s license renewed; and the bigger truth I was reminded of was, know where you are…or you won’t know where you’re going. 

That may sound obvious but I think we sometimes find ourselves moving in the wrong direction or ending up in a place we don’t want to be because we didn’t know where we were when we started.  If we don’t know our point of origin every step that follows will be a misstep.  For example, I’ve always been directionally-challenged.  I can look at a map and follow the squiggly red and black lines but that doesn’t always translate into reaching my destination.  Turn me around and I can’t tell east from west or north from south.  Yeah, there’s something to do with the sun’s position in the sky but who am I, Daniel Boone?  This is why I often find myself going the wrong way down one-way streets (just ask any traffic cop in Minneapolis), or missing the 490 downtown Rochester exit from 590 in the Can of Worms (just ask Connie).

What about GPS?  Sure, I’ll admit watching my little car icon zip across the screen is pretty cool – “Look, honey, Philadelphia’s only 2 inches away” – but a GPS doesn’t always give the right directions.  It won’t do you any good if it doesn’t acquire the correct satellite coordinates to locate your starting point.  And it only gets more embarrassing when Mr. T shouts at me, “Recalculating…fool!”

But I digress.

I was a little concerned about going into the county office building because they have walk-through metal detectors and this was the first time I’d been in the building since my heart attack and ICD implant.  My doctors have been very emphatic that I should ask to be patted down or hand-wanded rather than going through any scanners.  Otherwise the east coast power grid might go off, or I would, neither of which are desirable outcomes. So I put my keys and wallet in the plastic tray and explained the ICD to the security officer.  He said that was no problem and put the tray through the x-ray machine.  I walked around the scanner and stood in front of a second officer who seemed much more stern than the first.  I tried to act serious too and stood like a Marine at attention as he moved the wand up and down.  Nothing happened.  So far so good.

I took my keys and wallet and, looking at the directory board, saw that the DMV was on the second floor.  I walked over to the elevator and stepped inside.  I pressed the second floor button and waited.  The doors closed and the ride was very slow and smooth.  I mean, very slow and smooth.  After 15 or 20 seconds I looked up and the number 2 was lit but the door didn’t open.  I pressed the <> button and stepped out.  For a moment I was confused because it looked just like the lobby where I’d come in.  Puzzled, I stepped back in the elevator, looked up at the lit number 2, then turned back into the lobby.  That prompted security officer #2 – the no-nonsense one – to walk toward me.  I was thinking, was the elevator really so slow that he walked up a flight of stairs to the second floor before I got there?  Without smiling he asked what office I was looking for.  “The DMV,” I replied, adding helpfully, “it’s on the second floor.” 

There are many ways to describe the look he gave me.  Surprise.  Disdain.  Mild annoyance.  Pity.  Just to name a few.  “Sir,” he said, “you’re on the second floor.”  He pointed past me to a sign further down the hallway that read ‘Department of Motor Vehicles’.  “Hmmm…so I am,” I said, sheepishly.  He still wasn’t smiling.    

The lesson?  Well besides confirming that no elevator rides that smoothly, I also realized I didn’t know where I was going because I didn’t know where I was when I started.  The steps I had walked up from the parking lot had already put me on the second floor of the building.  I turned and walked down the hall toward the DMV, grateful that driver’s licenses only have to be renewed every eight years.

The same principle can apply to our spiritual life.  How often do we end up spinning our wheels or going in the wrong direction because we don’t know or aren’t willing to acknowledge where we are?  This is the spiritual equivalent to the stories about men who won’t ask for directions.  First – denial – “we’re not lost.”  Second – refusal – “I don’t need to ask for directions, I know right where I am.”  Third – grudging acknowledgement – “fine, you go in and ask for directions if it will make you feel better.”

We know ourselves.  And if we’re honest we know that there can be different reasons why we don’t know or aren’t willing to admit where we are.  It might be an honest miscalculation that we don’t realize until much later; thinking we’re ready for something or able to make an important decision when we’re not really where we need to be.  It could be willful self-deception, an internal wall we put up between the spiritual and temporal sides of our lives which I think, a lot of the time, has its origin in anger.  Or it could be fear.  Fear has the ability to paralyze our emotions and spiritual life by locking us into a small, dark place where we feel unloved and unloving. 

In my life there have been times when I lied to myself about the presence of sin that I wasn’t dealing with.  It was easier overall to just live with it and make self-justifications or excuses. 

Sometimes we’re not honest in our relationships with others and things go badly.  We may have feelings of regret but we suffer unpleasant consequences because we don’t acknowledge our true self and seek the transparency necessary to grow in grace. 

Or we try to act as though we have it all together, or worse, come across as a tad superior, when we’re outside the bubble of our insulated ‘Christian’ world, while deep inside we know we’re as messed up as ‘they’ are.  The question becomes, who is it that really needs redemption?

We all do.

While we’re busy with our work and families and church activities; while we’re listening to Francesca Battistelli, watching teaching videos on YouTube and discussing whether or not Rob Bell is a heretic, we have to make sure we’re being honest about where we’re at.  It’s not about putting on the ‘Christian’ face when we’re around brothers and sisters; it’s not about denying there’s a sin problem in our lives if there is one; it’s not about being tired and ready to give up.  It’s our brokenness that Jesus died for.  And despite the tendency we all have to want to look and act “ok”, the fact is Jesus loves us just as much when we acknowledge where we’re at as we think he does when we’re acting the role.  Do we believe God is going to love us more because we’re raising our hands while we sing the latest, trendy praise song in church, knowing that inside we’re broken and empty?

The world we inhabit is built on falsehood and deception; “reality” shows aren’t real; most of the “friends” you interact with on Facebook aren’t really friends; and neither CNN nor Fox News is “fair and balanced”.  We’re surrounded by untruths and unreality every day.  Discernment is a word you don’t hear very often anymore.  Yet that’s what we need.  We need to honestly discern where our hearts are and be transparent enough to live that truth without fear or shame, knowing that “a bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not put out” (Isaiah 42:3) and that as we grow and stumble ever so slowly in grace, “he who began a good work in you will complete it” (Philippians 1:6).

Despite the noisy unbelief of new atheists and skeptics, there is such a thing as truth.  To some, it may seem that truth has a shelf life.  It doesn’t.  Truth is unchanging and absolute.  Just as our worldview determines how we interpret life and faith, truth informs our values and beliefs which in turn influence our habits and behavior.  It is to that place we must return as we start each day, knowing and accepting where we are and embracing the tension inherent in being redeemed/unredeemed beings.  It's living out the 'not yet' in the 'now'.  Otherwise we’re just standing in an elevator that isn’t moving, pushing buttons and going nowhere.


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 03.04.11 Chris Stenson commented

I can't add anything more. This is deep and very true. I want you to know that I read this and must give much thought to where I am "pushing buttons" and not going anywhere. Thank you.

on 03.14.11 Bill Kamberg commented

You are always so deep and thought provoking! Who would think that a stupid elevator could lead to such profoundity (good word?).

Thanks, Cecil - be grateful you get 8 years from your license - I get 2.

Have a great week!

Bill K