I nearly cried in an auto shop the other day.
It started on a morning that felt like spring. There was sunlight clear as water, and an early wind that played on my skin and set the dead pine needles at my feet to skipping. I saw none of it though. I stood, eyes shaded, in the country lot of an auto shop and saw only the screwed up mouth and squinting eyes of my mechanic. He was circling my car, prodding my injured bumper with his foot, assessing the damage that my run in with a snowbank had wrought several weeks back. My teeth grit tight together. This repair had thrown a wrench in my careful budget and I knew that this car repairmen could easily get the better of me. I have no idea what mechanics are talking about and I have learned this the expensive way.
“Well,” he finally said, “You’re definitely going to need some work done. If you just want to drive it though, I can have my body work guys fix the bumper for now.”
I nodded, and then steeled my arms.
“How much will that cost?”
Quiet stepped into the space between us, and I thought he hadn’t heard me. I made myself look up to speak again, but found him already looking my way, head tilted.
“You know what, I’ll just do it for free. When you decide to get the major repairs done, come talk to me. This is on the house.”
That’s when I got tears in my eyes. I turned so he wouldn’t see. I had so dreaded all this; my incompetence at cars and the unexpected cost. The burden of one more detail I didn’t know how to handle. And then this grace walked in, this unassuming care handed over by a taciturn man in a gray jumpsuit. It struck me silent. My throat ached with thankfulness.
Part of it was that this was the third such kindness I had received in a week. Five days before, in minor crisis of trust and sick of my own fretting brain, I had outlined to God exactly what I needed and then, in an act of tremulous faith, dismissed my angst from my brain. I felt a little shocked when the next day, one of my prayers was abruptly answered by an unsuspecting neighbor. Then a friend presented me with an unexpected gift. And now this generous car man had answered yet another of my secret requests.
What struck me hard though, stung my eyes as I sat in the disorganized little waiting room of the auto shop, was the meek, sweet way these gifts had come. So unlike what I had expected. I think I am a bit of a two-year-old when it comes to prayer. I am insistent, direct, and occasionally throw a fit to be sure God notices my desires. I also have an image in my mind of how I think God ought to answer me. I want prosperity rained down, now, on my head. I want a flashy gift of ease to arrive on my doorstep and send my troubles packing. I want it free of strings too.
I find instead that God cares for me through the love of people. One by one, their friend-sized offerings of time, or care, or provision come to my life like seeds, and their kindness begins to grow, slowly, in the soil of my heart. The harvest is help in my trouble, yes, but also a comradeship that will bear fruit beyond this minute of need. I saw that, suddenly, in the auto shop. No supernatural bolt of ease could give me the friendship, the neighborliness that grows up between people who give and receive gifts in grace. God’s answers to my prayers don’t set me in an autonomy of blessedness, but instead bind me to the goodness of the people around me.
The auto mechanic with his repairs. The long love of my parents. A book given by a friend. Even my pet-sitting job, providing just enough extra to help with what I need and sparking rapport with my neighbor. I couldn’t have known to ask specifically for any of these things. My blind, toddler-like desire would have left me rich and friendless. God knows though, that I need love and fellowship, a humble heart, and a soul knit to my neighbors, just as much as help in practical matters. So, it wasn’t just the free car repairs that made me cry. It was knowing that I had a double gift. I woke up to find a whole garden of kindness sown into my heart with each bit of help. Those gifts will bear fruit in my soul. I will be nourished by apples of friendship, and herbs of neighborliness far beyond this time. And out of that harvest abundance I will turn around and give a few seeds myself.
That is an answered prayer worth a few happy tears.