Looking for the tow truck driver

Coming from atheism, the whole concept of there being a personal God who is somehow involved in all that we do was amazing…and intimidating…and confusing. As anyone who has read my 2007 archives knows, for many months I was fascinated with the concept of knowing exactly what God’s plans were for all the little details of my life. I looked everywhere for signs: did my invitation to a friend’s wedding get lost in the mail because I wasn’t supposed to go? Did my computer crash while writing for my blog because God didn’t want me to publish that post? Did all the difficulty we had getting to church mean that we should switch parishes? I wanted all the answers NOW, and wanted the world around me to act as a sort of spiritual Ouija board in which God gave me clear Yes’s and No’s when I asked him questions (that way there’d be no uncertainty and I wouldn’t have to mess around with that sticky “childlike trust” thing).

At some point I realized that, unless being a Christian was supposed to make you neurotic, I was probably doing it wrong. So I emailed regular commenter Steve G. and asked him for advice. The details of my question and his answer are here (I highly recommend that you read the whole thing), but the summary is this: I offered him a hypothetical situation in which my car breaks down on the way to an important meeting, and asked how to know the mind of God based on that situation. How do I know if God means the car breaking down to be a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down about the subject matter of my meeting? Or could it be that God is trying to tell me something about my relationship with the person I was planning to meet? Steve G.’s response was not what I expected, not what I was looking for, and not what I wanted. But it was a profound insight, and it changed the way I saw the world. In summary, his answer was:

Maybe it’s not about you at all. Maybe it’s about the tow truck driver.

He countered with a hypothetical situation in which there is a tow truck driver who is in a bad place in his life and is having a crisis of faith. He takes a call about a woman whose car is broken down on the side of the road. When he gets there he sees a Bible or something on her seat that indicates she’s a Christian, strikes up a conversation about faith, and ends up being led back to God through the discussion they have. In other words: I am not the protagonist in that story. I’m just “the Christian woman whose car broke down,” a bit player with a small speaking role.

It was this advice that led me to one of the biggest paradigm shifts in my entire conversion: the realization that to be a Christian is not to make God part of your story, but to realize you are part of God’s story (that phrasing borrowed from this fascinating post at Speak the Truth in Love). Up until this point, I would have described my goal as a Christian as “to make God a big part of my story!” To understand that it’s not about me, that the story was never mine to being with, was so humbling, so intimidating. What would this mean? How was I supposed to control everything if I didn’t even know where God was going with all of this?!

Though Steve G. actually offered the ultimate answer in his response, it took months for it to sink in. I had to learn it on my own, the hard way (as usual), after banging my head against the wall by trying to do it my way a few more times. Eventually I realized that what it means to accept I am part of God’s story is to ask in every moment not “What is God trying to tell me with this situation?” but rather, “How can I better know, love and serve God through this situation?” It is to stop reading tea leaves to see what God thinks of all my great, important plans and to realize that my plans are neither great nor important in the grand scheme of things.

Whenever I am tempted to forget this lesson (which is often), whenever I get so mired down in the frustration or difficulty of a situation that I can’t imagine how this could possibly be part of God’s plan, whenever I get so fixated on my own desires that I fall into thinking of all events in my life as related to them, I remind myself to “look for the tow truck driver.” The tow truck driver has become a symbolic reminder for me, a call to put it all in perspective and remember that I have the great honor of being but a small player in the story that God writes. And, sure enough, nine times out of ten when I set my gaze higher and look outside of my own little bubble to see what’s going on with the other players on the stage, I find that it is surprisingly obvious that the drama that I find myself in the midst of is actually not about me at all. Indeed, it’s usually about the tow truck driver.

New here? Take a moment to introduce yourself, or say hi on Twitter at @conversiondiary.



Enter the Conversation...

37 Responses to “Looking for the tow truck driver”
  1. Barb says:

    Jennifer, I read the post you refer to last Thursday when you left the comment on my post. I have not been the same since. The two questions (What is God trying to tell me with this situation?” but rather, “How can I better know, love and serve God through this situation?”) and my realization that i mostly camp out at the first one was so revealing to me. It is the kind of thing I need to post on my bathroom mirror so that it becomes a part of my life. Thanks so very much.

  2. Cecelia says:

    I was raised in the church and baptized at 11 and I find myself learning something new on your blog all of the time. The ‘tow truck driver’ has never been someone that I focused on in my life. At least not from the view of how could God be using me. Thank you and please continue.

  3. The Koala Bear Writer says:

    What an awesome lesson! I like the image of the tow truck driver. It’s so typical of us to think that we are the centre of the story, when really we’re just the side players as you say. Thanks for sharing this story.

  4. Martin says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple years or so, and I’ve always been impressed with the quality and content of Steve G’s comments. I dittoed them back then and I’ll do so again.

    To somewhat echo those thoughts, it’s often those lessons in humility to help us see the bigger picture. A definition of humility found in the Catholic Encyclopedia ….. “A quality by which a person considering his own defects has a lowly opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to God and to others for God’s sake.”

  5. SuburbanCorrespondent says:

    Oh, wait until you read the Little House books to your kids! I bet you’ll be struck by the same passage I was. At one point in “Little Town on the Prairie,” Mary says to Laura, “I don’t think it matters so much if we are being good or bad.” Of course Laura is shocked and objects. But Mary continues, “What’s important is for us to know that God is good.”

    In other words, it’s not about us; it’s about God.

  6. Sarah says:

    Thank you. Not just converts have trouble with that thinking. I’m going to keep the tow truck driver in mind from now on.

  7. E. says:

    What a fantastic post. I’ve encountered this same thought before – I have a tendency in my head to see myself as the protagonist of my own life story, when really I’m a supporting character in hundreds of others – but I’ve never seen it so eloquently put, or put in terms of God and faith like that. I might be forwarding this one along.

  8. matthew archbold says:

    As always. Wonderful and insightful writing.

  9. Abigail says:

    Excellent! Excellent! Another thought to keep in mind as I stumble after Christ in my daily life.

  10. Anne Marie says:

    You sum up the daily interaction of the Communion of Saints in a nutshell. 1 Corinthians 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.

    We are not little independent islands standing alone with God. As you so eloquently put it, “the drama that I find myself in the midst of is actually not about me at all”.

    Matt 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

    For my part I’m just glad the confessional is open every Saturday. I desperately need God’s Grace to live out this calling.

  11. Liturgy Guy says:

    Jennifer, I think another element in this to consider is that the tow truck driver has his own “tow truck driver” in his life’s moments. He might wonder why he met you, and it might not be all about him either. His conversion, arising from talking to you, after seeing your bible on the seat, may lead to an interaction with yet another person: his wife, a co-worker, another customer. It is so much more than about us, or even about the tow truck driver.

    As humbling as it is that you or I or he is a small part in the big picture, the big picture is even bigger than we can imagine, stretching across time and space, touching people we probably will never meet, all in some way giving glory to God.

    This means, also, that our actions, every one of them, are so much more important than we can imagine. One tiny bearing in an immense machine can prevent it’s working properly. One misplaced word of impatience can do so much harm. Abp. Sheen used to tell a story of 2 altar boys who dropped cruets during Mass. One was slapped and scorned, another was treated with patience and compassion. The badly treated one was the atheistic dictator Tito, and the kindly treated one was Bishop Sheen himself.

    We just don’t know what God plans to do with us and through us, so we ought to try to do our very best, all for His glory, as you wrote.

  12. amy says:

    At some point I realized that, unless being a Christian was supposed to make you neurotic, I was probably doing it wrong.

    Something I need to remind myself of every time I decide once again to start taking my baby steps toward faith.

    How was I supposed to control everything if I didn’t even know where God was going with all of this?!

    You mean I’m not supposed to be controlling everything?? ;-) Giving up control, for someone used to thinking it’s all about me, is such a difficult task, especially on days when I’m not even sure God really is there at the center of things. What if I let go and there’s no one there to catch me, after all?

    How do you look at it when you feel you are the tow truck driver, when you see the rosary there on the seat, but you’re too afraid to say anything? How can you let it not be about you when you have difficulty seeing God there at the center?

    Don’t mean to be negative — feel free not to post this comment on your blog, but I am interested in your thoughts if you have the time.

  13. Bob says:

    I am always awed by the sense that we are continually being “re-created”. Even simply reading a well-known/well-read Gospel passage – there may be a word or phrase that all of a sudden strikes you in a completely different way. Your story hits this point very well – to find God in the ordinary, everyday activities.

    I am reminded of Thomas Merton’s Prayer of Abandonment:

    I have no idea where I am going.
    I do not see the road ahead of me.
    I cannot know for certain where it will end.
    Nor do I really know myself.
    And the fact that I think that I am following
    your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
    But I believe that the desire to please you
    does in fact please you.
    And I hope I have the desire in all that I am doing.
    I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
    And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the
    right road though I may know nothing about it.
    Therefore will I trust you always though I may
    seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
    I will not fear for you are ever with me and
    you will never leave me to face my troubles alone.

  14. Liturgy Guy says:

    lfiwcIf I may offer my thoughts to Amy: I don’t think we have to assume that it’s always NOT about me. Sometimes it could be about me. If you are the tow truck driver, and you see the rosary on the seat, it could be like an invitation: “Ask your question.”

    The thing is, God loves you, me, all of us. If you are too afraid to take the invitation of the rosary on the seat, God will probably extend another invitation.

    In the parable of the wedding banquet, God is angry with the persons who REFUSED his invitation, who made excuses for not attending. Their excuses revealed that they didn’t want to go. But he’s not going to withold a later invitation because we are afraid. God keeps calling those who are open, but who need to overcome some obstacle.

    So, if you pass up that Rosary on the seat because of a timid, yet open heart, you will encounter another sign along your way.

    Or maybe, God will move the stranded motorist to notice your glance at the Rosary and move her to speak to you about it.

    We can’t let the process of discernment of God’s plan paralyze us. I think that’s a major point in Jennifer’s original post. We generally are not going to figure out who (the human) is the subject of a particular circumstance, because quite possibly, it may be about me, and you, and the next person we meet, and the ones they meet. Ultimately, though, it is about God. God is glorified in ways that we can’t even begin to foresee, even when we screw up, because often He will have someone else take up the ball where we dropped it, or he’ll help us pick it up and make a great run with it.

    So, if you see the rosary on the seat, God will glorified if you overcome the fear to ask your question. He will be glorified if the other person notices your glance and responds. He will be glorified if neither of you respond, but down the road something else more amazing happens to answer your question. Or if years later you meet again the motorist you towed and THEN have that conversation you didn’t have the first time!

    It’s about God. We just have to try to intend to do God’s will in all things, and to do the best we can, and repent if we fail somehow.

    Ultimately, as much as it’s about us giving control over to God, it’s also about admitting that his ways are mysterious and beyond our ability to comprehend. He gives us a peek into a tiny bit of it now and then. Yet, we have to humble ourselves, like Job, and accept “things that above measure exceeded my knowledge.” Job 42:1-6

  15. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for a great post and very insightful of both you and Steve G. I very much agree with what you say and hope to keep the tow truck driver in mind more often. However, how does one mesh this line of thinking with praying for guidance, favors in particular situations? I’m a recent convert and I still wonder about my devout Catholic friend who prays a novena to St. Therese for an answer in the form of a rose, or the homeschooling mom I just met whose family is praying a novena because they can’t decide whether to continue homeschooling their teenage son, or my FIL who is devoted to St. Joseph and credits him with many favors received over the years? Are they still looking at the big picture or is this about something else entirely? Just wondering…thanks!

  16. Kelly @ Love Well says:

    Well put, Jen.

    I’ve come to believe that God is like a master novelist, weaving together stories and purposes far beyond anything we can imagine.

    So while He is probably using you in the life of the tow truck driver, he is also working in your life to realize He’s using you to touch the tow truck driver. And he might just be working on the tow truck driver’s wife in the same incident.

    He’s amazing. I know He cares intimately about my story. But if my story wasn’t plugged in to His story, mine would be insignificant.

  17. Carrien says:

    You know I know this. I’ve even said it before, but I really enjoy the way you write it. It’s like a secret I”m discovering, or rediscovering, for the first time.
    It’s so easy to get self-centered.

    I really enjoy the phrase “realize you are a part of God’s story.”

    I also think that one of the most divinely human functions we have is the power of choice. I have often encountered places where I wanted God to tell me what to do and He seemed to be asking, “What do you want to do? This one is in your court.” I think as we mature we get faced with this option more and more often.

  18. Christine says:

    I love this post. As a former atheist myself, I am intrigued by your blog and will be back to dig a little deeper here. I stopped by from Andrea’s.

  19. Jennifer F. says:

    Amy -

    How do you look at it when you feel you are the tow truck driver, when you see the rosary there on the seat, but you’re too afraid to say anything? How can you let it not be about you when you have difficulty seeing God there at the center?

    I think Liturgy Guy did a good job of covering this one. I would just add that my motto in those types of situations is: make decisions based on reason, seek God always, and trust that it will all work out. Many times you won’t know for sure what the Holy Spirit is prodding you to do (probably most of the time if you’re anything like me) so, as Steve G. pointed out in his original response, that’s when we just use the gift of reason that God gave us and move forward based on that, always remembering to turn our minds towards God to try to better know him.

    Does that make sense? Please feel free to ask more questions!

    Anon -

    However, how does one mesh this line of thinking with praying for guidance, favors in particular situations?…

    My understand (which is very limited — take it with a grain of salt) is that sometimes we do need to specifically pray for *clarity* on an issue, and that our prayers ask for not so much a specific outcome as simply the ability to discern what the Holy Spirit is telling us. I think that these prayers are often probably more “effective” since we’re getting out of the mode of trying to tell God exactly how we want our lives to go and instead simply asking to better understand what his will is.

    I think your question also touches on the whole concept of “why pray?” — I know that that used to be one of my big questions: when we pray are we asking God to change his mind or something? Here is a great article on that topic if you have any interest.

    Does that help at all?

    I love questions like these. Thanks!

  20. coffeemom says:

    You’re right. And as usual, you said it so well. It’s true, it’s almost always about the tow truck driver! Thank goodness!

  21. amy says:

    Thank you liturgy guy and Jennifer for your responses. liturgy guy wrote:

    In the parable of the wedding banquet, God is angry with the persons who REFUSED his invitation, who made excuses for not attending. Their excuses revealed that they didn’t want to go. But he’s not going to withold a later invitation because we are afraid. God keeps calling those who are open, but who need to overcome some obstacle.

    This is a big part of my problem. I’m not sure if I really got the invitation, that there really is a wedding banquet (maybe it’s all in my head, maybe Christians are crazy — sorry, no offense!). So I’m not sure if I’m refusing the invitation as I am questioning the authenticity of the invitation, or maybe just unable to find my invitation underneath all the piles of junk mail I have accumulated over the years. Does that make sense?

    I think I’ll just try to crash the wedding banquet anyway, (if I can find it — your directions are helping) and see what happens. Maybe my desire to go to the banquet, whether there really is one or not, is invitation enough.

  22. Kevin says:

    Very nice post, Jen.

  23. Jennifer F. says:

    This is a big part of my problem. I’m not sure if I really got the invitation, that there really is a wedding banquet (maybe it’s all in my head, maybe Christians are crazy — sorry, no offense!)

    Amy – I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your honesty. I remember a couple years ago when I was in the same place, I often got advice from Christians that assumed that I was solid on the belief that God exists in the first place. We were just totally missing one another. I promised myself that if I ever were to have a firm belief in God that I’d never forget what it’s like…yet it’s surprisingly easy to forget, to fall into giving people who are searching advice that presumes that they believe that God exists in the first place. Thank you for that reminder!

    Maybe my desire to go to the banquet, whether there really is one or not, is invitation enough.

    You’re really on to something here. As I alluded to in that Finding God in 5 Steps post, I am a big believer in Augustine’s advice that you must “believe so that you can understand” — i.e., you have to take a leap and live as if God did exist for a while before you’ll really get it intellectually.

    You’re on the right track. I’m really excited to see where you go from here.

  24. Liturgy Guy says:

    Amy,
    in my comment to you, I was saying that I believe you HAVE received an invitation, that you are NOT one of those who have rejected the invitation.

    It appears you may have some sort of obstacle going on, something that makes you doubt the invitation. That’s not a problem. Along with the invitation is the grace to respond, even if it takes a few or several attempts.

    Jennifer’s advice is good, I believe. Take the leap, crash the banquet, as you said. Take that chance.

    I am convinced that God’s love will clear the way for you. God’s love will see you at the door, and escort you through the obstacles (which can include other Christians!) into the banquet.

    Don’t be afraid of being afraid.

    Why did Jennifer repeat this post on “looking for the tow truck driver?” Why are you here reading it? Why are the commenters commenting?

    Maybe, in this moment, for Jennifer, and for me, and for some of the others, you are our tow truck driver. One way or another, however we phrase it, it is providential that you have questions and have come to this blog, which a few years ago, did not exist!

    I will keep you in my prayers.

  25. Loy Mershimer says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    I’m a first time visitor to your site and just breezed in from the Paragraph Farmer: well met, I say! Loved this post. It’s apt and timely.

    I’d like to speak to a point you raised, however. Perhaps it might be nuanced more. It’s re: your quote:

    It is to stop reading tea leaves to see what God thinks of all my great, important plans and to realize that my plans are neither great nor important in the grand scheme of things.

    Specifically re: the bolded statement… I would hope that you can someday come to the realization that as you serve the story of God, even your slightest plan is overwhelmingly consequential.

    This is the truth of sovereignty, as I understand it: that God is at work in details as small as a fallen sparrow or the number of hairs on our head. It is a step of grace to realize that these details are not about us [as you so admirably describe in your tow truck driver story]; however, at the same time, those details are incredibly meaningful.

    As you consciously partner with sovereignty, you’ll never make an unimportant plan ever again. You’ll make small plans, yes. But these will be cogs in an eternal plan — perhaps tiny, unseen and unheralded, but part of eternity for all that.

    Read Tolkien again in Lord of the Rings. Hear again the words of our Lord: “Consider the lilies of the field…” See again the destiny in small things.

    In your new found grace, please do not give up on the eternal details of your life!

    Loy

  26. reprehriestless warillever says:

    Jen,

    Thank you for this post. I read it when you wrote it back in May and have continued to think about it every time I question God’s purpose in day-to-day events. I left a link to it on someone else’s blog (Preschoolers and Peace) today because I think it fit with the conversation there.

  27. An Huynh says:

    Jennifer, i must say… your blog is addicting! I think i’ve left you random comments before but I wanted you to know that I’m subscribed to you (good ol’ google reader) and every time i read your posts i become a better Catholic. Thank you for doing what you do!

  28. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Your last two lines particularly struck me, "And, sure enough, nine times out of ten when I set my gaze higher and look outside of my own little bubble to see what's going on with the other players on the stage, I find that it is surprisingly obvious that the drama that I find myself in the midst of is actually not about me at all. Indeed, it's usually about the tow truck driver."

    It hit me about my children: that the daily trials of life are probably more about them, about showing them how I ought to act and react as a Christian to negative stressors. I already knew of the necessity being a good example, but this makes the point with a different twist for me.

  29. victor says:

    Dear JENNIFER! Please forgive me cause I really did not come here to read your post and comments at this time. I simply came because I wanted to indirectly apologize to Anchoress for not recognizing what an angel she really is but wouldn't you know "IT", being the angel that she is, she showed us her controlled modesty which only angels like her, I think can muster by closing her comment box.

    Thank you for your patience in putting up with this comment and who knows some day I might find that you are as much an angel as Anchoress would want U>S to believe.

    God Bless all HIS unsung Angels in disguise.

    Peace

  30. Randy says:

    Jennifer,

    Thanks for linking to my post here. I know it is belated thanks but I didn't know about it for a few months and then it seemed a little late.

    Anyway, what has happened is my blog has died. I started a new one. I brought this post back from archives. So if you change the link that would be appreciated.

    http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.com/2010/06/whos-story-is-it.html

    I am also on your blogroll. If you want to change that link

    http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.com

    I do read you stuff and I am blessed by it often even though I rarely comment. God bless you in your work. Thank you also for the few times you have complimented me on my writing. Those words mean a lot.

    Randy,
    formerly PurifyYourBride
    new blog is called Speak the Truth in Love

  31. Have you heard about the lady that drove away with her SUV up on the tow truck. IT was pretty funny to see her driving with her rear wheels up in the air, haha.

  32. I was sent to this post by a commenter on my blog, and I’m so grateful to her! In exploring the idea that “everything happens for a reason,” I came to a similar place: the idea that God doesn’t always let us in on the reasons, and sometimes the reasons have nothing to do with us.

    As for the signs you’ve discussed here…it’s so easy to get carried away with constantly looking for confirmation that we’re on the right track, or guidance about what to do next. I think at some point God just wants us to trust ourselves.
    Alizabeth Rasmussen recently posted..Trite and True: Making Peace With the Cliche (Part Three)

Trackbacks

Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. [...] – Jennifer at Et-tu has a much better story with an actual lesson in it. (H/T Julie who links to a much more meaningful, and heart-wrenching, [...]

  2. [...] it’s easy for me to slip into that “Jesus and me” mindset where I forget that I am part of God’s story (not vice versa), that my prayers should not be all about my own little world. At Mass I sometimes find myself [...]

  3. [...] link about “I am part of God’s story (not vice versa)” goes to the post: Looking for the tow truck driver. A good idea, that, to look for how to serve, instead of wondering what some little incident means [...]

  4. [...] that that means that God was calling us to host a child this summer. Who knows? Maybe this was a “tow truck driver” situation where God’s whole plan here was just for us to connect with the Kidsave [...]

  5. […] are great, but when that’s what 90% of my prayers sound like I tend to fall into thinking that God is part of my plan rather than remembering that I am part of God’s […]