Living with teenagers is like sailing a small ship on a rolling ocean. You have to constantly adjust to keep your balance. It’s full of surprises: like last week, when my daughter asked if I’d take her and her brother downtown to spend the day: to go out to breakfast, explore Millennium Park. She wanted to shoot some photos. I enticed my son along with a promise to visit the Art Institute. I cancelled other plans to adjust to this favorable wind.
We live about 40 minutes outside the city. We started with breakfast at the Bongo Room, a little South Loop place that has a line out the door for breakfast on the weekends. Pumpkin pancakes, an incredible breakfast burrito—really great food. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, nearly 70 degrees (absolutely a rarity in November here in Chicago). Because it was Veterans Day, the traffic going into the city was light. The conversation on the way down was light and playful. It was already a good day.
As we were parking the car, we noticed smoke (it was actually steam) coming from under the hood of the car. I looked at my temperature gauge and noticed it was all the way up to H for hot! I parked the car, turned it off, and decided to let it cool down while we ate our breakfast and considered our options. I called my dad, he suggested checking to see if the radiator had enough water.
After breakfast, we stopped at a grocery store and bought a few gallon bottles of water, refilled the radiator, and drove north. We got about four blocks and the car started overheating again.
We pulled into a parking lot, where a nice man tried to help, and suggested loosening the radiator cap to let the steam escape (once the car had cooled down). We saw a small crack in the radiator, steam curling gently from it.
I won’t bore you with all the mechanical details, but at that moment, I had a decision to make. I could worry, or I could decide to trust. I could choose worry, or I could choose peace. At first, I wondered aloud if we should head home, and my kids loudly protested. So I decided they were not only right, but the voice of God in my life at that moment, and I was not going to let this wreck our day. I decided to obey Jesus’ command to not worry (see Matthew 6:25). Not with a blind optimism, but with a quiet trust. We were okay, and would continue to be okay. I chose to believe that and live in it.
I’m a AAA member, so I knew that I could get the car towed to a mechanic nearby, and take the train back to the suburbs, if I needed to. I could load up the trunk with bottled water and try the man’s suggestion about driving the car home with the radiator cap loosened. I wasn’t sure at first which was plan A, and which was plan B. But I knew I had options.
But at the moment, I decided that we would just enjoy the city. Rather than let a little car trouble ruin a great day, we decided to go to the park, and then the museum. I didn’t want to let worry steal my joy at just being with my kids for a few hours.
Christian faith seeks to obey Jesus’ command: “Do not worry about your life…” (Matthew 6:25) Jesus calls us to trust him, and to let go of having to control the outcome of every situation. When we do that, we will have joy, even in challenging circumstances. To do so requires a certain emotional detachment, a conscious letting go of needing to control the outcome of every situation.
Trust is a choice, the alternative to worry. People may even think we are crazy or irresponsible, when really, we are simply turning over our lives, one moment at a time, to God’s excellent and dependable provision. Trust is a spiritual practice.
Unlike other practices like prayer, study, solitude and so forth, the practice of trust is not something we can schedule. We kind of have to wait for situations that would cause us to worry or fear, and in the midst of that situation, choose to believe that we are safe in the arms of God. We have to sail along and wait for a rogue wave or a sudden wind shift, and trust we will not capsize.
Do you believe God is good, when he hands you a mixed bag of a day: sunny and gorgeous in November, time with people you love, but a major car problem stirred in?
I asked for God’s help in trusting the car issues would resolve as needed, and we set off, leaving the car parked in a lot. I was keenly aware that my decision not to worry was a gift of grace, a gently bestowed favor that came from beyond myself.
Millennium Park was gorgeous and full of people, and my daughter shot a whole roll of film. The kids got along with each other and with me. My son my son wanted to visit the Modern Wing at the Art Institute, and to see if they had any sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, the artist he’d been studying in his art class recently. He was thrilled to find several Giacometti pieces in the Art Institute’s collection, and tried to get my daughter and I to appreciate the other works in the modern wing, like a huge canvas painted black. “Isn’t this amazing?” We pointed out it was a big black square. “Look at the texture!” he cried. The whole day felt like a gift.
After several phone calls to my dad and AAA, we decided to try loosening the radiator cap and driving the car, closely monitoring the temperature gauge. We stocked up with more water, and drove straight to our mechanic (who is located near us in the suburbs). My husband met us there to drive us home. (Thank God for cell phones!)
You may wonder why I called my dad first and not my husband. I love him dearly, but I knew talking to my husband would not help me in my quest to trust and not worry. And it would not help him to avoid worry. Also, my dad owned the car before we did so he knew what work had been done on it in the years prior. (i.e. he told me not to let the mechanic replace the thermostat as it had just been replaced).
When life throws us challenging circumstances, we have a choice to make: will we worry or trust? Will we believe God is in control or expect the worst? This is the only place we have the opportunity to engage in the practice of trust—in the trenches of difficult circumstances. And if we are parents, the choice carries more weight. My choosing (and it was a conscious choice, akin to choosing to go to the gym or pass on dessert) to be positive and to enjoy our day offered an example to my children about what it means to let your faith shine through your attitude. For their part, they believe that they convinced me to stay in the city for a few hours instead of heading home right away—and I’ll admit they strongly influenced that decision. I learn a lot from them. In fact, I think God spoke to me through them (a trick He’s been pulling since they learned to speak).
Together, we decided to focus on this truth: we were never in danger, we had options about how to deal with the car. We were all okay, together. I kept telling myself that. But part of what enabled me to stay calm and focused was the fact that I knew I needed to model faith and fearlessness to my kids.
Sometime in the future, they may find themselves having car trouble, or some other challenge, and they will have to decide how to handle it. I hope they will remember this day, and our decision to trust (and all the other times we have decided to trust). I hope they remember how we experienced God’s generous provision: not just in that we made it home safely, but that he enabled us to be free from worry and fear.
Note: this article first appeared in this month’s Connecting with Keri Wyatt Kent e-newsletter. To subscribe and read the full newsletter, fill out the form on this page.