Rusty and I purchase things wisely and reluctantly, after much deliberation and research. (In other words, we are really cheap and hate spending money.) After we do acquire things, we do a pretty good job of taking care of it, wanting it to last a long time. But inevitably, something will break, get lost or ruined in some way. When this happens, we have a saying: “It’s just a thing.” In other words, what importance does an object really have? Only the importance we give it. Is any object really worth being upset over?
I learned this lesson the hard way with my first new car. In 1994, I had just finished grad school at the University of Texas and gotten my first real full time job. I had moved to Texas in ’91, driving my Honda CRX, loaded to the gills, all the way from Colorado. I loved that little Honda CRX, but it had a serious problem for my new life in Texas: no air conditioning. I drove it for the three years I was in grad school in Texas anyway because financially I had no other choice. When I graduated and got that first job, I treated myself to my first brand new car- to this day the only new car I have ever owned.
It was a 1995 Chevy Cavalier. The color was called “Cayenne”, and it really was the color of cayenne pepper powder, a bright and shiny red, slightly tinted orange. It was a stick shift (my preference back then), ran like a dream, and was air conditioned. I was in love.
Less than 48 hours after driving my first brand new car off the lot, I stopped at the grocery store on my way home late one night, carefully parking at the far end of the parking lot so I would protect my new treasure from door dings. When I came out, I saw a man standing next to the passenger side. To my horror, I realized that he was peeing on my brand new car! Just some random, drunk guy, jealous of someone else’s possession, so he pissed all over it, figuratively and literally. I hollered out to the lot security cop, and the drunk guy ran off, jumped into a car with a friend and tore out of the parking lot.
At the time I remember wanting justice, running to get a look at his license plate so that the cops could be called, but it was fruitless. I drove my car to the nearest carwash. But even though the carwash left my brand new treasure clean, it was somehow still soiled in my mind. That new car meant way too much to me.
The feeling started to wane after a week or so as I put it out of my mind. Then when I had the car exactly one month, I walked out of work and saw a dent in the passenger side fender. I began to get upset, but then heard in my mind, for the first time, it’s just a thing. That car was just a thing, an item. In that moment, the car was transformed from an idol back to an object. As it should. I decided to keep the dent in the fender to remind me that the car was just a thing.
I had that car for eight years. It went on a lot of road trips. It went from being my car to our car when I got married. We took our first child home from the hospital in it. A lot of life happened in that car. But it wasn’t the car that was important; it was just a vehicle for the life I got to live.
When that first child was a week old, on the way to the pediatrician for a weight check, someone in a big Ford SUV rear ended that car. It was totaled. And the life inside it? My baby didn’t even have a scratch. He slept through the whole thing. Rusty and I had only minor bumps and bruises. My car was destroyed, but my family was safe. If I hadn’t already understood it, it was clear as I held that child safe and sleeping in my arms. That car? Just a thing.
And the child? The harder part was the realization that the child was not my treasure, either. I could have lost him that day. Scarier still, I could lose him any day. When my one-week old baby was suddenly threatened in such a way- a way that I had no control over- I understood that he was not my possession anyway. He is God’s child. My responsibility was to care for him, love him, nurture him and protect him, but ultimately, he didn’t belong to me. He was not just a thing to be possessed. I could either choose the notion that I could somehow protect him from all of life (and never leave the house again), or I could do what all godly parents are forced to do. I could choose to trust God with this child that He created.
I’d like to say that I made the decision to trust God with this child that day, but really what I did was commit to the process of trusting Him. That trust, like a strong relationship, is something that must be tended to daily. Something I have to constantly remind myself of with his two younger sisters, also. It is a lesson I relearn over and over as I watch the world be not so gentle with them.
Help me God to take good care of these you have assigned me. And help me Lord, to trust that you will care for your children.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Mt 6:19-21