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.