It always started. Darn it!
Every time I dragged my ancient lawn mower out of the shed, it always started, destroying any excuse I might conceive to avoid mowing the lawn. One pull of the cord, and “Vrrooomm.” So disappointing.
Every summer over the past 10 years, my dependable lawn mower enslaved me. I tried everything to fight back. I never changed its oil. Never. I refused to take it for a tune-up. Its blades stayed chipped and cracked, and it still cut the grass. I even fed it year-old, stale gasoline. Nothing worked. Each and every Saturday morning week after week after week my loyal lawn mower started instantly. What’s a lawn mower owner to do?
Like my lawn mower, a loyal friend of mine always responded to me instantly and predictably with the same two sentences. If I told her, “This last month has been miraculous and exciting,” hoping she might share in my joy, I knew her reply, “The Lord is with you. Trust in God.” If I told her my rough and wearying week left me in tatters, seeking her sympathy, right away she replied, “The Lord is with you. Trust in God.” If I won a $500 million lottery, if I became the father of octuplets, if my wife divorced me, if my house burned down, I knew her response: “The Lord is with you. Trust in God.” In good times and in bad, through thick and thin, my faithful friend responded to me in the same way as my dependable lawn mower.
As a younger man, I found such lack of variation bewildering. I lived with ups and downs, wins and loses, roller-coastering excitedly through life. Sameness bored me. I moved from St. Louis, Mo., to live in Chicago, Ill. I moved to Baltimore, Md., then went to Salt Lake City, Utah. I itched to travel all over the United States. I challenged myself, attending nursing school, college, seminary, and graduate school. I learned multiple languages and ancient Middle Eastern history. As a musician, I played jazz, rock, disco, country and classical music. Life inspired me to take on the world.
Predictability mattered not. My lawn mower started each and every Saturday morning. Who cares? My unsurprising friend told me, “The Lord is with you. Trust in God.” Right. I already know that. Their devotion and allegiance seemed pale in contrast to my life’s excitement.
Then something happened.
I traded in my old, trusty lawn mower for a new one. While the new mower performs beautifully, it sometimes complains. It starts with a second or third pull of the cord. With my life still filled with multiple inspirations and numerous commitments, I complained to my new lawn mower. I grumbled about its lack of predictability, saying, “I have better things to do. Just start like my old lawn mower started!”
Then something else happened.
Last week I attended a large annual church conference in Denver, where clergy and laity meet to decide next year’s goals, and my loyal “Trust-in-God” friend never arrived. Year after year she consistently attended our conferences, but not this year. Even though I knew her responses to me well before we ever chatted, she didn’t show up, and I missed her. As I walked through hotel hallways or sat in the convention center, I felt alone. I wanted to hear her expected words, “The Lord is with you. Trust in God.”
In life, when so much excites us, riles us or gives us drama and meaning as we race through our years, we often ignore and even shun who or what offers us consistent solidity. When we slow down a bit, beginning to look around for what we can truly count on only to find such dependability and constancy gone, it gives us reason to pause and perhaps even to grieve.
Such constancy, predictability and loyalty actually matter more than many of us realize — a lesson now taught to me. In a world exploding with a blitz of eruptions, steadfastness can often begin to loom into a significant place in our life — the rising and setting of the sun, the alarm clock alarming us at 7 o’clock every morning, and the resilient dandelions popping up every week to mow. Ah, sweet predictability.
So, too, with our God. Day after day, century after century, millennia after millennia, our God predictably and loyally stands ever present for us, waiting for those times when we tire from our copious and “more important” exploits, wishing to return to some state of expectedness. God stands tirelessly, always saying, “When you want to come back, come back. I am always here.” The Lord said as much in Jeremiah 31:16: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back ...’” (English Standard Version)
These days, as I jostle bumpily, bumpily to and fro through my days, more often now than ever before I relish the constant and the conventional, so that at times I can return to the knowable. These days I appreciate and savor each and every opportunity to return to customariness — sunrises and sunsets or the sweet voice of a loyal friend or steadfast God, who always says, “The Lord is with you. Trust in God.”
Thomas Towns is pastor of First Methodist Church of Cortez.