When I got my driver's licence and bought my first car, my father was adamant that I needed to be able to change a tyre. His only daughter wasn't going to be 'one of those' helpless females! Besides, we lived in a rural area, and being before the advent of the mobile phone, he didn't want me stranded for lack of knowledge. Lack of strength was a whole other kettle of fish, but I could usually get those pesky wheel nuts undone by standing/bouncing on the wheel brace. These days I drive a 4x4, so I don't even think about changing the tyre - I can't even lift the spare out!
All that said, in nearly thirty years of driving, it has been a reasonably rare occurrence.
In the last three months, I have had three punctures. Apart from the exceptional frequency, it was unusual because I had never heard of, let alone experienced the cause of these flats before. Two of them were caused by sticks! I was really surprised the first time, almost to the point of disbelief, although our local tyre repair assured me it was quite common (which it proved to be for us!). The other was caused by a quite small, seemingly normal piece of stone with a particularly pointy end. Not your usual suspects given their prevalence.
Driving home from the repair shop after the third one, I was wondering about this sudden pattern, and was reminded of one of my husband’s favourite sayings:
“It’s just a flat tyre.”
It’s his way of putting things into perspective. As much as a flat tyre is an irritation, annoyance or inconvenience, it is rarely a major problem, unless you haven’t bothered to make sure the last one is fixed and you’re already running on your spare!
However, even as I remembered this, the words, “yes, but three in three months is a little bit much!” came into my mind. As I thought of the other things going on in our life at the moment, many of which we try to keep in the perspective of simply being a “speed bump” or “flat tyre”, the frequency and continuing nature of these is starting to get wearing. Just when we have felt we are coming out of one incident, another comes out of the blue to take its place.
It is tiring (no pun intended!), to say the least. And with that tiredness, hopelessness and despair also come creeping.
It leads me to the question of what my faith looks like when the waiting for promises to be fulfilled seems to take too long, when the circumstances continue to look like no, or even “wrong way, go back”. How do I hold on to my faith, how do I keep hoping, flat tyre after flat tyre after flat tyre?
But by very definition, isn’t that what faith and hope are all about? As Paul says, “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” (Rom 8:24) Underlying this question of faith, perhaps the real question is whether God is faithful. Can I really place my hope and trust in Him?
Naturally, we all know the ‘correct’ answer.
Of course God is faithful and trustworthy!
But that is before we were waiting.
And the problem with waiting is that we usually don’t really know how long is enough. Like the proverbial piece of string – how long is it? Until we get to the end, we won’t know. Like my call to the insurance company today, forty-five minutes waiting in the queue, then another thirty on hold. You start out hoping it will be shorter than they say, and you keep waiting because hopefully it will be in the next minute, or the next, or the next. And if I get off now, I will have to start all over again. So you wait, hoping the phone won’t go flat, too.
We are right in our first answer to the question, though. God is faithful. He has proven Himself time and again, in history, in the lives of our friends and families, in our own lives. But this is new. This we don’t know. This time (again), we are not sure if we can wait that long, that our battery won’t go flat in the waiting, or that we actually have a spare tyre.
Which reminds me of the story Jesus told about the bridesmaids, where half of them had extra oil in case they had to wait longer than expected. The other half ran out, and while they were off getting some more, they missed the bridegroom’s arrival.
There have been various interpretations of what the oil represents, from the Holy Spirit to simply about always being ready. For me, the idea of the “oil of joy for mourning” springs to mind, which could be linked to the joy of the Spirit as well.
Joy seems to be a good antidote in the place of waiting. It is the antithesis to hopelessness and despair. While it is not something we can always elicit in ourselves, especially in those places we are struggling, it is one of the fruits of living in the Spirit. However, joy cannot coexist with hopelessness and despair. We have to make a choice which of these we would like to carry in our places of waiting, in our places of flat tyres.
As for me, I choose to lay down (evict, reject, cast off) hopelessness and despair, and to pick up joy!
Come Holy Spirit, fill me afresh!