I have found that I get a real satisfaction out of fixing things, especially mechanical things. Like I have mentioned, my father was a mechanic for most of his life, and from the time I was a little boy I loved watching him fix things. As I grew older I started to try to fix things more and more by myself. But along the way of learning how to fix things, I learned a lot more ways about how break stuff. I think the first mechanical responsibility I took upon myself was the maintenance of our lawn mower. I mowed the lawn at our house and my dad was always so busy he never really touched the thing unless it was seriously broken or he had to move it, so without asking I took upon myself the responsibility of its maintenance. I knew how to change oil, or so I thought. So around the time I was 13 years old I began the routine oil and air filter changes and kept the front end greased, and I did it all by myself. One day I was cutting grass and the mower just shut down. Come to find out you are supposed to make sure the oil drain plug is good and tight when you do an oil change, or else the oil will slowly drain until the motor seizes up like cement. Dad didn’t let me change oil for a while.
I had a lot of experiences like that along the way. We had an old Ford farm truck with a 300-6 in it, and the coolant system had a slow leak somewhere in it. We continued to use the truck all summer without fixing the leak, by just pulling it up to the water hydrant and filling it up with a garden hose before we took off for the day. That worked just fine all summer, and in the fall my dad parked it after he got another farm truck. One day in the middle of January we needed a truck to go get round bales from a field a few miles away, and our other truck was broken down. Dad called me up and asked me to take the old summer truck down to grab the bales quick, and so I did just that, after pulling it up to the hydrant and topping it off again. I went and got the bales and came back and parked the truck and thought nothing of it. The next morning my dad was asking me about how chores went the night before, and when the conversation came around to the truck my dad became quite excited as he figured out that I filled the coolant system with pure water in the middle of January. We went out to check the truck and the entire system was frozen solid. My dad thought I had completely ruined the motor, but the freeze plugs did not even blow. All we had to replace was the radiator and two rubber hoses. My dad loves to tell the story now, but that morning he was spitting fire.
In the midst of learning a lot about how to break stuff, I picked up some things on how to fix stuff too. In fact, I think I learned more from those colossal mistakes than any of my other experiences. There is a real truth there; “we grow in the broken places of mistakes and failures.” There is something about the moment of realizing that you just did hundreds of dollars’ worth of damage to something, which crystalizes what you should have done in your head. Overtime I became better and better at fixing things and came to really enjoy it. A relaxing afternoon normally involved changing transmission fluid and filters, spark plugs and wires, or some obscure light bulb behind the cluster. I looked forward, and still do, to changing parts or tuning up vehicles. After I moved to AU, I brought my own tools with me to continue fixing my own stuff. Every once in a while now I get the opportunity to help one of my friends save some money, with everything from simple brake jobs to more serious stuff like replacing struts.
I think the reason I like automobile repair so much is because I enjoy the instant gratification that comes with repair. Fresh oil, new brake pads, a smooth idle, those things are really gratifying for me. Perhaps another reason why I enjoy repairing cars is due to the fact that my father, despite his tremendous mechanical ability, was horrible with upkeep of our own family vehicles. Our farm truck went for a whole winter without a starter that would engage itself, because my dad could manually engage the starter with an ax handle. I got to drive that truck to school and would always have to get a friend to turn the key while I was outside in the cold trying to engage the starter with that stupid ax handle. My dad fixed that eventually-right before he sold it. I have a story like that for every vehicle our family ever owned. As they say, ‘the cobbler’s children have no shoes’.
It became such a pet peeve of mine that now I could be considered obsessive compulsive over vehicle maintenance and upkeep. I have found that I have a restorative strength. I am not only gifted at, but receive personal fulfillment from fixing things; not just cars, but everything from happy home-owner fixes to personal relationships. It is apparent at times however, that I struggle with recognition of brokenness and the knowledge of not being able to fix it. I think it is a very masculine nature, to try to always fix things. This can often result in one strapping on their tool belt and dealing out answers before the conversation has even finished. I think it is a very frustrating thing for restorative people, to see a situation in which they truly feel they have the solution to, but to be unable to fix it. I felt like this in the season of my parents’ divorce. I expect that I will continue to struggle with this should I enter pastoral care and counseling. It must be a horrible thing to see a marriage tearing apart right across from your desk and to have the overwhelming anguish of being helpless. He will not listen to her. She will not stop drinking. They have hurt each other too much to leave their emotional barricade of calloused pride. It must be an awfully heavy feeling for a pastor to feel incapable of reconciling such a mess.
Then again, it could be even harder to have the feeling of incompetency when the individuals are looking to you for answers, willing to listen to any comfort you can give, vehemently looking for any trace of reconciliation and repair you can bring to their situation. I would venture to guess that no pastor looks forward to those late nights spent in the sterile hallways of the local hospital, holding a full grown man as his last effort of composure collapses in your lap. What do you tell that man? You are their fixer. They are looking to you for the million dollar question: “Why did God let this happen?” Right now I have no answer. I could muster up a biblical truth about how God has a plan, about how God is going to use their loss for something greater, or how God had nothing to do with it. But to be honest, I find some of those answers sickening. People are not stupid, and when the tsunami of pain rips their life apart, they ask more questions about God than you give them credit for. Perhaps some of those questions are what we, as pastoral counselors, need to spend more time on ourselves. How can I offer a canned version of comfort when I myself do not understand, when I myself am overwhelmed, and when I myself am questioning God? Is it my job to have all the answers? Is that what the man in your lap really needs at that point? Or is perhaps the most intimate moment you can have with that man at that moment, in the cold, dark hallway, is to look into his eyes to see the eyes of the suffering Christ, in his last moments on the cross. “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” And perhaps all you can hope in that moment is that he can look up and see the same in your eyes. Perhaps in the moments in which we feel the most separated from God, the most broken and hopeless, are the moments in which we come closest with the suffering Christ in His final hour. And perhaps those moments between suffering and restoration, those gaps of uncertainty, pain and question, are the places in which grace abounds.