El Capitan

It's funny how quickly one’s sense of security can become wobbly.

On my way to work Wednesday, my car started acting up. I had driven to Cincinnati and back the evening before without incident, but as I got on I-71 to go to work Wednesday morning, I noticed it was running rough. The temperature gauge was all the way in the red and my power steering had quit working. As I limped and prayed my way to work, this security blanket that I usually don’t give a thought had suddenly become threadbare.

I made it to work, and scheduled an appointment at a garage in Westerville for the next morning. Problem solved.

Except not. That's when the trouble really started.

" El Capitan " by  Steve Parker  is a Creative Commons image, licensed under  CC BY 2.0

"El Capitan" by Steve Parker is a Creative Commons image, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Tuesday night before I had gone to bed, I had started the process of downloading and installing Apple’s latest operating system upgrade, OS X El Capitan, on my laptop. When I got to work, I tried to finish the installation, but five minutes into the process I got an error message telling me to restart my computer and try again. I did this six or seven times, only to have it hang up at the same spot each time. I couldn't install the new operating system and I couldn’t go back to using the old one. I was stuck.

I spent most of the afternoon, between meetings, trying to figure out a way to get it to work. The Apple web site was no help. Other users in the Apple Support Community had a solution, but I couldn’t understand the technical jargon. Finally, I bit the bullet and called Apple directly, even though my service contract had long ago expired and it was going to cost me $30 to get help.

I was on the phone with a tech named Chandler for over an hour, and it was starting to look as if he wasn’t going to be able to help me either—that is, not without doing a “wipe and re-install,” which would cause me to lose untold numbers of data and files. I did not want that to happen. By some stroke of luck or providence or juju—or maybe I just held my mouth right—I got to the problem spot in the installation…and it didn’t hang up! Now I just had to wait an estimated twenty-four minutes to see if it “took.”

A mere hour and a half later, the twenty-four minutes finally elapsed, and El Capitan was successfully installed. I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. It was now 8 pm, so I pressed my luck by getting back in my car and very gingerly driving home.

It’s now just before noon on Thursday, and I’ve been sitting in a Tim Horton’s in Westerville since nine, waiting for my car to get fixed and trying to run a backup on my computer. After the events of a day ago, I’m reflecting on how many different things we rely on without really thinking about them, and how disruptive—frightening, even—it can be when those things suddenly become unreliable.

In this case, the world would not have ended if my car had broken down completely or my computer had not recovered. It would have been a nuisance, and an expensive one, but life would have gone on. As it is, I only really lost a day of work and will be out about 800 bucks for car repairs.

But it gets me thinking, in what else do I place my security that would be more catastrophic if I lost it? What does each of us rely on in order to function and feel safe in the world? Job? Family? Savings? Friends? Possessions? House? Technology? What would happen if we lost any of those things?

The late great Mark Heard had a song called “Shaky Situation,” in which he sang:

People talk about security;
you know, there ain’t no such thing.
You’ve got your earthquakes, jail breaks, foreign competition,
and your runaway subway trains.
I’m not trying to be callous,
I’m not trying to be cold,
but there are some things more important
than watching the big wheels roll.

Heard is not saying anything new. From the writers of Genesis to the prophet Amos to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, to Thoreau to Gandhi to Reinhold Niebuhr, wise people have been warning us for centuries about the dangers of entrusting our lives to anything or anyone other than the Divine Source. Only when we rely on God do we experience genuine, lasting security. The “churchy” word for it is salvation.

The key, or part of the key, anyway, is gratitude. Grateful people recognize the givenness of life. They do not pretend to be self-made. They look to a Source beyond themselves for the good things in their lives. Consequently, they are not completely devastated when those things get taken away. They know that in the world “there ain’t no such thing” as security, but in the Eternal One there is and always will be.

Let us, then, live thankful lives, surrendering our self-reliance in favor of reliance on the God who loves us and will never break down or give us an error message.