Perspective

My daughter called me last evening, frantic. She was driving to a dance competition in a city three hours away, but her car had stalled on the Interstate and would not start. We explored various options—were other dancers from her school liable to be along before I could get there?—but eventually it was obvious that I would have to meet her at her car and get her to the competition, and also I would have to arrange to get her car towed so it could be repaired.

It was dark by the time I found her and her car. We got her dress and supplies and overnight bag and pillow transferred into my car. I made sure that her car would be towable in the morning. Then we continued on our way. She needed to text several people about her situation, since she had first told them about the car trouble, so she was quietly working on her phone for a while. Then, in a soft voice, she asked me if I had heard about the shootings and bombings in Paris. I told her I had heard preliminary reports before leaving the house, and she proceeded to fill me in with the known details about the terrorist attacks and their victims.

After a while, she looked up and said to me, “I guess having the car break down on the interstate isn’t such a terrible thing, relatively speaking.”

Yes, I was proud of her for that moment of perspective. Canceling my evening plans and driving until nearly midnight suddenly did not seem such a terrible inconvenience either. I can read and watch television other nights. This night we could pray for the families of those murdered, for those in Paris who were injured, who were frightened, and who were in need of the Lord’s gentle care.

Jesus told his followers that wars and rumors of wars (as well as earthquakes, famines, and other troubles) would fill history right up until the time of his Glorious Appearing to inaugurate the new creation and to complete the fullness of his promises, those promises already kept by his sacrifice and his resurrection. Accepting the knowledge that evil will happen is not surrendering to the evil. God’s people should continue to be horrified by every violent crime, by every act of war, and by every way that people hurt other people in this sinful world. Evil does not win so long as we continue to hate evil. While we continue to speak of a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness, we also call upon governments in this world to accomplish their God-given task, “an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). The government, acting as government, does not forgive sinners; it punishes the wicked and the evil and protects its citizens. This truth does not cancel the other truth that the cross of Christ is bigger than all evil combined, rescuing victims of sin and also sinners when they trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.

The Bible speaks of Tribulation, not as a count-down to the Last Days, but as a sign of the Last Days that has stood since Jesus died and rose from the dead. Enemies of the Church will attack and persecute Christians. Wicked people will pursue senseless violence for their own evil purposes. Wars and rumors of wars will continue. As citizens of this world, we fight evil with strength; as citizens of God’s Kingdom, we know that the victory over evil has already been won.

Some weeks it seems as though Murphy’s Gremlins have targeted me and my family with special maleficence. Car troubles and appliance troubles have plagued our lives and our family budget unremittingly for more than three straight years now. The awareness that “it could have been worse” seems hollow after frequent repetitions. Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall distinguished between miserable lives and horrible lives, suggesting that those who are merely miserable should be glad that their problems are not horrible. As a Christian, I can say more. Whether I suffer from the petty annoyances of Murphy’s Gremlins or whether I must face true evil in its ugliest form, I know that Christ has made me more than a conqueror by winning the battle and the war against evil. I know that nothing in all creation can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Thank you, dear daughter, for that moment of perspective. J.

Murphy’s Gremlins–part two

Note: this post and the preceding post summarize a book that I have tried more than once to write, but I have never been able to finish it.

Murphy’s Gremlins enforce the law that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. They strive to bring the greatest inconvenience to the greatest number of people. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they can be beat.

I struggled with the gremlins for a long, long time before I discovered a system that leads to victory. I call it the TAP system, because its three steps are remembered by the initials T, A, and P.

T stands for trust. As twelve-step programs say, you must believe in a higher power. Things go wrong every day, small things and big things, but evil has been defeated by good. Trust that someone is in control, someone who cares about you and is bigger than all your problems. When the gremlins seem to be pulling ahead of you, take a breath and remember the higher power. Assure yourself that, because there is nothing that power cannot handle, therefore there is nothing that the two of you together cannot handle.

A stands for act. Don’t let your frustrations paralyze you. If a problem can be fixed, do what you have to do to fix it. If you need to call in a professional, make the call. Plumbing and electricity can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and the gremlins will definitely take over when you try to fix something that you do not understand. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to learn. If you have time to figure out how to replace a piece of pipe under the sink or a light switch, go ahead and do the job. Nothing feels better than putting a gremlin in its place by acquiring the satisfaction of a new skill or ability.

P stands for play. No, that is not a misprint; prayer comes under the category of trust. Find humor in the work of the gremlins, and learn to beat them at their own game. Buy a sandwich when you are in a hurry, and let the gremlins decide whether you get the green lights or the chance to eat your sandwich. Either way you win. Make a game out of the traffic lights. Pretend that the twenty lights between work and home are games on a team’s schedule, and keep track of the team’s record. If that gets boring, use your time in traffic to count things. Count Volkswagen beetles. Count yellow cars. Keep track of out-of-state license plates. If counting is not in your line, see if you can assemble a rainbow from the different colored cars around you on the road.

Play with the gremlins at home. Name them if you want. Talk to them if you want. Let them know that they cannot beat you. But do not forget that you are playing. You and I both know that Murphy’s Gremlins aren’t really there. They are simply a way of making small problems even smaller. They are a way to overcome frustration with humor. They are a way of reminding yourself not to take life all that seriously.

Murphy’s Gremlins can be beat, especially when you remember that they are not really there.

J.

Murphy’s Gremlins — part one

Note: this post and the following post summarize a book that I have tried more than once to write, but I have never been able to finish it.

We’ve all heard the saying called Murphy’s Law: if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Some people say Murphy was an optimist.

When you are late for work and in a hurry to get there, traffic is heavy and you meet all the red lights. When guests are coming for the holidays, the floor drain backs up and floods the kitchen. When you have a paper due for school and have almost finished writing it, the computer crashes. When the computer works again, that paper is the only file that has disappeared. When the water heater springs a leak, you discover the leak on Friday night and you have to wait until Monday to get the water heater replaced.

Murphy stated the rule, but he did not describe the gremlins. Murphy’s Gremlins live all around us, in the computer, the water heater, the floor drains, and the traffic lights. These gremlins are able to measure how important our machinery is to us. They are able to calculate when a break-down will be most inconvenient for us. They know just when things should go wrong, to make each day as stressful as possible.

A powerful gremlin lives in my car. It knows precisely when to keep my car from starting, the day I need that car the most. It arranges for a flat tire on a rainy day. It makes sure that, when I bring the car to the mechanic to fix one problem, another more expensive problem will show up in the garage.

City engineers try to time the traffic lights for the most efficient use of the roads. They cannot outthink Murphy’s gremlins. I have seen the light change for the side street when no car is there. Finally a car approaches, but before it reaches the intersection, the light has changed again, and the driver has to wait for all the traffic that had built up at the red light on the busy street to clear. Murphy’s gremlins watch for times like that. They love nothing more than to cause the greatest inconvenience for the greatest number of people.

Now Murphy’s Gremlins are responsible for inconveniences, not for tragedies. They cannot be blamed for earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Nor do they cause war, poverty, and crime. Murphy’s Gremlins cause the power to go out just when you are about to start cooking supper. They make the telephone ring just as the rice on the stove is almost finished, and they keep you on the phone until the rice has burned. Murphy’s Gremlins make sure that the phone call you were expecting comes while you are in the bathroom.

They have a sense of humor. If I buy a sandwich to eat at the red lights—for I will not eat while driving, not while the car is moving—then I will get green lights for the entire trip. If I clear my schedule and set aside an entire afternoon for a difficult repair project, things will fall into place and I will be done in half an hour. When I want to mow, the mower will not start; but if I really do not want to mow and would accept any excuse to put off mowing, the mower roars to life with just a half-hearted pull of the cord.

Murphy’s Gremlins are part of life, and most days we must accept their existence. But the gremlins can be beat. In my next post, I will tell you how.

J.