Years ago, we lived in a cute little neighborhood in Southern California. It would take my dad all Saturday, and sometimes Sunday afternoon as well, to finish mowing and edging our postage-stamp front yard. The minute he stepped out front and lit up the mower, Art would walk across the street to talk. Gerald would meander over from two doors down a few minutes later. Sometimes Joe would amble across the street in his bowlegged strut to join the conversation, too. They would spend hours out there, talking about cars, motorcycles, and work. Dad knew better than to plan on actually washing a car as well over the weekend – he’d never get done. Probably where I learned to wash and wax the car at 10 pm….
But later, when we’d moved to the bigger house and yard, he missed the interruptions from friends who spoke his language and understood what made him tick. It’s only recently that I’ve seen how blessed it was to have four neighbors within sight of one another who all valued the same things.
C.S. Lewis notes that friendship is not about the other person; it is a shared interest in something both parties value highly that also feeds both immensely. If we turn our focus on the other person, the friendship usually falters. And because the interest is outside the relationship, more people with the belief that this topic is important make the party better. It’s just really rare to find someone else with the same passions as ourselves.
I think back to my days on the beach, when we dreaded having to visit the restroom for fear of being harpooned by Campus Crusaders. They would lay in wait for their prey outside the doors, and if you could get in without being trapped and wetting the walk, you’d never get back out. At least on the way out, only your vanity was in peril. I actually went to one of their meetings once. It was this big hoopla about how many newbies each one had brought, and how everybody present needed to bring “at least one” to the next meeting. I couldn’t figure out why anybody came, if this was just a big head count and back patting session. I thought we were there for God’s glory, but all focus was on the other people. A crucial piece was missing.
Somehow I missed the same thing when I became serious about my faith, and tried to become a “Christian.” Every one I’d ever met drove a beat-up Corolla and discussed lofty spiritual concepts over potluck dinners. I knew I needed to give up my selfish outside interests, so I unwittingly made myself into something I wasn’t with nothing to offer anyone. Including myself.
It took a long time to realize that I am not my pastor’s wife, or Amy Carmichael, or any other “Perfect Christian” I admired. While I can look to them for encouragement, I cannot copy them. It is only when I am me, washing the car in the driveway, scrubbing whitewalls, and admiring others’ liveries, that I am true to my creator. I avoided those things I love because I couldn’t imagine that they would be from God. I didn’t understand what it meant to give up myself, and ended up with only emptiness inside. I no longer had any joy in life and couldn’t figure out why God wasn’t filling this huge void.
Meanwhile, I remembered that we had never failed to have crashers drawn to laughter and fellowship around our beach fires.
God had to reach out and show me that when my dad died, my loves and passions didn’t have to go with him. My old friends were still out there, and they and others still cared that even a restored Volkswagen have the proper door handle for the body year. I heard someone mention a special pressure washer that made water spots a part of history. People still care about correctness and “Dad Clean”? Hallelujah! I had thought that, in order to put my car in its proper materialistic place, it had to become a grungy vehicle for transport from Point A to Point B – a concept I’ve always disliked.
But then I found something so life-giving in Scripture: God created all that has been created. If He didn’t believe that beautiful vehicles were worthwhile, then why did He create the lightweight, versatile Arabian horse, mentioned as the pride of the Egyptians? Or the heavy, blue-black Friesian with flowing mane and tail, used by knights and farmers alike? Why did he impress people like Daimler and Renault to develop the first gas-powered vehicles? In giving glory to the creator by enjoying His creation, I was freed to admire cars and horses again.
Then I saw a clip on TV about a talented skateboarder who was a Christian. The cameras loved when he came up off a ramp and turned around midair to roll back down it, so he painted Scripture verses on the bottom of his board. Tim Tebow has done the same thing in football with his eye black. These two men have been blessed by glorifying God in whatever they do. I couldn’t believe that God created and loved skateboarders and football, but He does.
I realized that I could give testimony to Him with my white whitewalls and sparkling rims. By keeping my car beautiful and in perfect running order, I reflect Him. The world around me never loses its tune. The food chain never needs adjusted. And when it gets dirty, He sends rain to wash it. He’s charged me with the maintenance of my little corner. And the minute I accept this charge, fully utilizing the skills and abilities He gave me, I find joy in being useful.
I went to lunch with a huge group of ladies a couple years ago, full of chit-chat about babies and tea and mommy stuff. I was bored until one gal pulled out her photos, which several women admired politely. Two photos of a grey horse caught my eye. I looked more closely and saw that it was an amazingly beautiful Egyptian Arab. I mentioned that he reminded me of a famous showhorse. She instantly lit up and the entire table faded for both of us. Her horse was indeed the grandson of that stud, and we instantly tasted the rare friendship of shared passion. The fellowship of those moments was a gift that brightened both our worlds.
I doubt my dad and his friends spent much time discussing theological issues – the lady and I weren’t – but God was nurturing every one of them, as well as speaking to me, in their relationship. It was good for them to just hold up the garage door and shoot the breeze. Those sessions sent them back to their work weeks with renewed vigor. They also gave me a picture of what is so important: in noticing and enjoying the details in God’s creation, He is glorified. Being a Christian is just sharing the joy that I find there.
Maybe that’s what I was trying to get at a couple posts ago. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16) He is best glorified when we then talk about what we’ve seen.