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Life under the hood

The Life Less Traveled

July 06, 2011
I'm not exactly what you would call mechanically-inclined. I've literally spent hours trying to put new wiper blades on my car. Hours. When mechanics see me walk into their shop, they start high-fiving each other and calling their wives. "Hey, babe, looks like we're going to put in that pool."

It's not like my dad didn't try to help me. I think from a very early age, he could tell I had mechanical issues. Fortunately, the cars we owned kept breaking down, so he had plenty of opportunities to take me under the hood and try to teach me some automotive survival skills.

Dad would always invite me to come and "help" him when he worked on the car. Step-by-step he would patiently explain to me what he was doing and why. Then, he would name each part and show me how they worked together. I swear I tried to pay attention. I really did. I can remember telling myself, "Listen! You're going to remember it this time." But no matter how hard I would concentrate, within minutes my mind would drift off to Star Wars or G.I. Joe.

Then, Dad would ask me for a tool, and I would get busted.

True confession time: I had this weird mental block that prevented me from remembering the difference between a wrench and pliers. I'm not talking about when I was 4. I mean, like, when I was 12. I don't know what my deal was.

I can remember one time Dad asked me to hand him a wrench, and I spent what felt like hours mentally debating which one it was. It was like those movies where the hero is diffusing a bomb and he has to decide which wire to cut.

My hand hovered over the toolbox, sweat dripping my brow. Wrench or pliers? Wrench or pliers? No way was I going to ask. Kids today have Google and Handy Manny. I had to rely on my own stupidity.

I think that was the day Dad began to encourage me to be a writer.

For all my ineptness, I have to give my dad credit. When you look at what he had to work with, it's a miracle that, given enough time, I actually can change my oil and filter, battery, flat tires and, yes, usually even my wiper blades. Unless they get stuck.

Sometimes I think about all of those hours helping my dad under the hood, and I laugh when I realize how much help I really gave him. But it wasn't about what I could do for him. He just wanted to spend time with me and help me to learn to do the things that he did. That's what loving fathers do.

The longer I follow God, the more I realize my relationship with Him is much the same. Yeah, God gives each of us opportunities to "help" Him and make a difference in our world. Reaching out to people in need. Giving generously. Serving in and outside the church.

But, let's be honest, a God who could play cornhole with planets doesn't exactly need our help. He does, though, include us in what He's doing because He loves us. He wants to spend time with us and help us to learn to do the things that He does: love unconditionally, forgive outrageously and make things right in a desperately messed up world.

Some days I'm sure it seems to God that, spiritually speaking, I still can't tell the difference between a wrench and pliers. I lose my temper. I hoard my stuff. I judge people right and left. But just like my earthly father, God values the relationship more than the results, and so, patiently, he walks me through it all again and again.

Jason Byerly, a 1990 graduate of Crawford County Junior-Senior High School, is the children's pastor at Southland Christian Church near Lexington, Ky. He and his wife have two daughters. For more from Byerly, visit www.jasonbyerly.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/jasondbyerly.

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