GO TELL YOUR NEIGHBOR . . .
“O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” Moses, Exodus 4:13 (NIV)
If you feel weak, limited, ordinary, you are the best material through which God can work.
Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King, Experiencing God
The last conversation I’d had with my neighbor, Frank, had been a disaster. So when the Lord told me to tell him how to fix his car, I couldn’t imagine a worse idea.
I was in my backyard, lugging a load of branches to the compost pile, when I saw Frank standing in his driveway, two houses away, leaning over the open hood of his Audi sedan. His fists gripped the edge of the car, his shoulders were hunched forward as he stared intently at the engine.
Go tell him it’s the fuse to his fuel pump. I shook my head. Where had that thought come from? Was it God? Or was I making it up? I couldn’t imagine telling Frank how to fix his car.
I dumped the load of brush on the compost pile and trudged, deep in thought, back to my front yard where Sam was cutting down an overgrown Leyland cypress.
As I watched my husband whack at the cypress, I thought back to my last conversation with Frank.
It had been six months ago, after a winter storm, Northern Virginia-style–four inches of snow, followed by rain, then freezing rain and more snow. The next morning, one look at our slick snow-filled driveway was enough to make my husband and me break out our sleds and cross-country skis, heat up the hot chocolate, and call our bosses.
But not Frank. He was determined to make it to work.
Our picturesque little street, which winds down and around a steep hill, is treacherous in winter. From our front yard, we have a perfect view of the steepest part of the hill, and our neighbors do their best to entertain us on snowy days. Their humorous attempts to escape from the snowbound neighborhood provide a welcome diversion while we shovel the driveway.
The hill is a formidable obstacle–even for macho men in four-wheel drive vehicles. Twisting and sputtering, cars slither their way up the hill, wheels spinning. Frank was usually one of the first to try, even though he had one of the least suitable vehicles–a long 12-passenger van.
I was skiing home when I saw him. His van was speeding along the flat section of the road, then turned to climb the hill. The van continued at top speed for about 20 feet, then slowed to a crawl, wheels spinning. Yielding to gravity, Frank carefully backed the van down the track his vehicle had made in the snow for another attempt. He repeated this routine at least ten times while I stood watching from a safe distance. Occasionally he advanced a few feet. This only tempted him to try again.
His final attempt began like the others. This time when the van stopped moving forward, it twisted and slid back against the curb, coming to rest against a huge mound of snow halfway up the hill. Now he was in a fix. The van was wedged with one of the back tires against the curb in snow so deep I could barely see the top of the van. And right on the steepest part of the hill.
Several neighbors who had paused from digging out their driveways to watch Frank’s dogged efforts grabbed their snow shovels and headed toward the van to help him dig it out.
This is ridiculous, I thought. Why can’t Frank wait until the street is plowed? Imagine! Trying to drive a van out! I didn’t know at the time that Frank drove a vanpool. Other people were depending on him to get them to work. No wonder he was trying so hard to get out of the neighborhood.
Then I made a terrible mistake. As I skied past the trapped vehicle, my thoughts rolled off of my tongue and out of my mouth.
My thoughtless comments upset Frank and, as I skied into my driveway, I wondered, When would I learn to keep my mouth shut?
Even though I’d gone back later that day to apologize, I still couldn’t imagine offering him more advice. As I carried another load back to the compost pile, I thought, I’ve already made a fool of myself once with Frank. I’d better keep quiet this time!
But I couldn’t escape the nagging voice. Tell Frank that the fuse is blown. Was God speaking to me or was I making this up? I was beginning to squirm. The turmoil in my heart grew. Finally, I turned from the compost pile and walked hesitantly across the lawn.
Frank was fiddling with something under the hood.
“Hey, Frank,” I said, trying to sound lighthearted and feeling idiotic, “having trouble with your car?”
He took a deep breath and turned to look at me. A smile froze on his face. “Yes,” he said slowly, in an icy tone of voice, “it won’t start.”
I took a deep breath. “Have you checked the fuse for your fuel pump?”
“Yes, I have,” he said even more slowly, enunciating each word. “It’s not the fuse.”
Oh, great, I thought, now what, Lord?
“See,” he said, flipping the cover of the fuse box in my direction.
I looked down, bewildered. The diagram drawn on the inside of the fuse box lid looked complicated. My eye caught the phrase “fuel-pump.” It was listed in two places. I took another deep breath, “Did you know there are two fuses for the fuel pump?” I asked.
Frank was removing the distributor cap. “No, I didn’t,” he replied, so sharply that I jumped.
I turned and bolted.
About halfway across the lawn, I called back over my shoulder, “I hope you get it fixed. See you later!”
I ran back to my husband. While I was gone, he had reduced the cypress to a stump. As I told him about my conversation with Frank, tears began to roll down my cheeks. “Why do I always think I’m hearing from God, when I’m not?” I asked him.
He put a reassuring arm around my shoulders and hugged me. “You do hear from God a lot. You made a mistake this time. Let go of it, Betsy,” he said laughing. “It’s okay. You were only trying to help.”
I tried to put the conversation with Frank out of my mind and focus on helping my husband pry the stump out of the ground. But I felt wretched. Once again I had managed to irritate Frank.
About 20 minutes later I saw Frank drive off in the Audi, but it was a few days before I knew what had happened.
I was working in the garden when Frank’s wife, Jean, stopped by. I couldn’t resist asking her about the car.
“Oh, it was the fuse,” Jean, told me. “After you left, Frank replaced the fuse to the fuel pump and the car started.”
“Really?” I asked, stunned. My heart leaped. God had been speaking to me!
“It rattled him,” she continued. “He asked me how you knew it was the fuse.”
“What did you tell him?” I asked.
“I told him that I thought you were surrounded by angels,” Jean replied.
Angels! I had prayed for Jean several times in the past year when she was sick. Each time God had answered those prayers. I could see that Jean’s heart was opening to God.
But what was happening with Frank? What was God doing the day he told me to tell Frank how to fix his car? And did he need to humiliate me to do it?
Looking back, I see that I needed to be reconciled to Frank. I was so embarrassed by the unkind remarks I made the day Frank’s van was stuck in the snow, that I kept my distance. I was content to wave from my driveway, never letting our relationship fully heal. But God was not content. He was not willing to let my shame over past mistakes get in the way of being reconciled to my neighbor. Talking to Frank about the fuse forced me to face my discomfort and this time my words brought help to a frustrating situation.
We all have people that we avoid. The neighbor who borrowed our rake and never returned it. The teacher who thought our kid was a brat. The former friend who made an insensitive jab. When we sin, or someone sins against us, we often avoid that person rather than taking our shame and hurt to Jesus and letting Him forgive us and cleanse the wound so we can be reconciled.* * * *
Who are you avoiding?
That was so embarrassing. Sometimes I just want to hide. I don’t want to admit, even to myself, that I did something wrong. Lord, forgive me! Show me how to be reconciled to those I have wronged as well as those who have wronged me. Help me to forgive myself when I do stupid things. Help me to see that the only way past these feelings of shame is to face what I did and receive your forgiveness. Move me past the places where I get stuck and take away my shame.
In Jesus’ name,