Of Miles and Men
Recently, I experienced a difficult betrayal. This friend had been my constant companion for nearly a decade. She helped me move from Texas to Wisconsin to Iowa back to Wisconsin and finally to Michigan. In Maggie’s presence, I had prayed about countless decisions. When I was with Maggie, I knew that I would get wherever I needed to go. Sometimes we would get a little off track, but in the end, I never doubted her reliability. To the untrained eye, that heap of teal and metal might simply have been referred to as a 1994 Mazda Protégé DX. To me, however, Maggie was my faithful and consistent friend. For eight years, other than my faith, only Maggie had been a constant in my life.
When her transmission started to slip, I took her to our regular mechanic. He informed me, “Well Jen, it won’t be cheap. And she’s going to need a specialist. If you’re thinking about replacing her, this might be a good time.” Such harsh words for my friend! After conceding that neither a new car nor a fixed-up Maggie was in my future, I began my search for new-to-me car.
I’ve always been a bit of a list freak. Though I do have an odd fascination with research, I think it’s also a coping mechanism I’ve adopted since my parents’ divorces. I’ve prided myself in not making emotional decisions. Feelings are fickle, so I find assurance in a list of long pros and short cons. I began my quest with a chart of “must haves” and a “wish list.” I used my bank’s online calculator to create a spreadsheet of monthly payments based on different loan amounts and percentage rates. I color-coded the chart so I could tell at a glance if how a particular car would affect my budget. I confidently approached the dealerships armed with charts and lists and Blue Book values and Consumer Reports. Truth be told, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted, but the preponderance of my preparedness fooled the sales staff. When approached, I would say, in one breath, “I want a sedan, no older than four years, with automatic transmission, power brakes and steering. If it doesn’t have those things, I’m not interested. I also want a CD player, power windows, mirrors and locks, cruise control, dual airbags and keyless entry. Oh, and I want a ridiculously low monthly payment. Still think you can help me?”
After two weeks, my mind was so overwhelmed with figures and data that I could hardly keep the cars apart. As I walked the lot of the eighth dealership, I was tempted to absent-mindedly point at a car and say, “Silver. That’s pretty. I’ll take that one.” I just wanted to make a decision and be done with it. But I knew I would be living with whatever decision I made for at least the next several years as I made payments. In the end, even though I test-drove every model in its class, I bought a later model version of my Protégé. Though it was familiar, everything was a little newer and cleaner. It felt like home.
As I drove Maggie that last time, I started thinking about my bizarre attachment to a car. It was just a material possession, one that I had long since given to God. But then I remembered that Maggie symbolized the beginning of my restored relationship with my mom. As a fresh-faced college grad, I invited her to help me make my car-buying decision. When she flew to Texas to help negotiate the sale, it was the first opportunity in a long time that I had initiated her input in my life. It was also the first time since the divorce that I felt she made me a priority.
Driving home was a sentimental journey as I thought about how much my life had changed and stabilized in the last eight years. I also wondered what the next eight years might reveal.
It’s funny to think that God can use inanimate objects to reassure us of His grace. As I filed my charts and notes, I compared the parallels between choosing a car and finding a spouse.
- You can’t always choose the timing. I had a new car budgeted for two years hence. I also thought I’d be married by now. Go figure.
- When you shop with a list, you’re more likely to end up with what you’re looking for, and less likely to be swayed by a pretty package or sporty accessories.
- Part of the fun after making the decision is discovering all the little things you didn’t see at first—like the convenient little compartment for my wallet by the steering wheel, or the fact that my husband likes to cook (l hope!).
- There’s give and take. If you buy a used car, there are going to be a few dings and dents. Even with a new car, there’s always the possibility of a recall or defect. If you marry an imperfect man (is there any other kind?), he’s going to have some issues. (Yes guys, women have been known to have a fault or two as well).
- You only get one, so decide wisely. You have to consider what criteria are the real deal breakers.
- If you practice preventative maintenance, the car will be reliable. Oil changes, frequent trip to the gas station, rotated tires…all these things help my car to run smoothly and last longer. I can’t just assume that because it runs well now, it always will. If we focus on our relationship, make it a priority, work at growing together and building each other up, infidelity will be improbable.
- When we get rid of the old car, we relinquish our rights to own it, drive it or enjoy it. Once we make a marriage decision, we must let go of past relationships, individualized dreams and unrealistic expectations. It’s hard to let go of those things, but until we do, we can’t fully be loyal to what we have.
I realize that trust issues are more easily assured in matters mechanical than matters of the heart, but I felt God’s quiet assurance that if I can make a good decision with this car, that I will be that much more careful about selecting a spouse. I have my lists and my hopes. I’m doing my research and when the time is right—His, not mine—I think I’ll be able to make that decision with the same peace as I’m feeling driving my new car.