Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Well-Oiled Machine

I once knew a guy who determined if his car's engine oil needed to be changed based on whether he could read a newspaper through it.  I once knew another guy who actually ran his truck so long that there was virtually no oil left in it when he finally got around to changing it.

The second guy was me.  It's a miracle that truck kept going.  It had a slow oil leak that dripped on the starter, which is why for a significant part of our dating life Lisa had to help me roll start it.  It's also a miracle that we stayed together.  But hey, if you'll help your boyfriend roll start is piece-of-junk truck, I guess you'll stick through just about anything.

Imagine this truck painted a super sweet metallic blue color
called "Medium Quasar Metallic."  Camper shell painted
to match.  Decent sound system.  Ah, the memories.

This was the truck my brother and I both learned to drive on, and it was the truck we both drove in high school.  By the time we finally let it go, we had burned out more than one clutch, and there were no original body parts on the front end.  Both fenders, the hood, the grill, the bumper, and both bumper ends had all been replaced.  To be fair to my brother, while he was in part responsible for the clutch, the body damage was all me.

I fixed that truck myself.  I repaired or replaced the body parts when I wrecked it. When I finally had time, I replaced the starter myself too.  The engine was fairly simple (and very small!).  I'm not gonna lie.  I miss that truck, and as much as I hated it I sometimes wish I could have it back.  Except now I'd want it to have air conditioning.

Anyway, car engines are complex machines.  Even the relatively simple one in my truck.  All the parts have to work together just right for the engine even to turn over, much less run smoothly.  They have to be exactly the right size--exactly the right shape.  They have to do exactly what they are supposed to do.  If even one part falls out of line, it can completely shut the engine down.

It's not enough for all the parts to work perfectly together.  Even and especially if all those parts mesh together just right, they will generate a whole lot of friction.  So much heat, in fact, that if left unchecked the parts will melt and fuse together.  At that point you're left with a very expensive boat anchor.  Even the radiator, whose purpose is to remove heat from the engine, is not adequate to prevent failure due to friction.  That's where the oil comes in.  Oil forms a thin protective barrier between the moving parts, drastically reducing the friction and thereby preventing the motor from melting and seizing.

I was thinking out loud about this in front of the Spirits of Joy choir the other day.  I know it's a character flaw, but it's just something I do.  Somehow I was talking about how well Lisa and I work together.  I make decisions easily and quickly...too quickly sometimes.  Lisa takes a lot more time to make decisions...sometimes too long.  This is why we are such a great team!  We meet in the middle ('neath that old Georgia pine).

Yet another awesome hairdo I never managed to pull off.

You might say our marriage is a complex machine.  Like all machines made up of parts working closely together, it generates friction.  That's normal and expected.  A combination of grace and love is the oil that keeps it from overheating and melting down.

That's really true of all relationships, not just a marriage.  Friends make each other better by pushing and challenging.  But pushing and challenging generates stress and friction.  It's the love and grace friends share that protects them from the damage that friction could cause.  When things get ugly, it's because we forget the oil of grace and love.

Let's be real.  It's not always easy to have grace or love.  The times it's the most difficult are the times it is most needed.  But it's worth it.  Grace and love in our relationships make it possible for us to grow through friction and work together to accomplish what otherwise wouldn't be possible.

Maybe that's what the church is really supposed to be: people banding together committed to making the world a better place through love and grace.  Not just our own love and grace, but the love and grace of God in and through each of us.

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