Finding Stillness at the Auto Repair Shop

check_engineby M. Nelle Carty

Two weeks before Ash Wednesday, the “check engine” light went on in my car. I looked down, puzzled what could be wrong. I had just had my car serviced several weeks earlier, and the mechanic told me I should be “good to go for a while.” I saw that I was close to hitting 40,000 miles, so I assumed it was a service reminder that the mechanic had forgotten to switch off. I kept on driving. I continued for a day or two driving to work, going to my classes, running errands, and racing to all of the other commitments in which I am involved. One morning, I was in a hurry to get to my part-time job and my car wouldn’t start. The ignition turned over, so I knew it couldn’t be the battery. I had just filled up the gas the day before, and my car is too new to have any major issues. I tried turning it again. It started, then immediately died. I was so frustrated! I tried again. I had to get to work. I had so many things to do. I tried again. I knew the light had been on for a couple of days and was angry at myself for not doing anything about it. I had been too busy, I rationalized. I tried it one more time, on the verge of tears, and it worked! GREAT…but what should I do? Was it really worth the risk of driving it and having it break down on the highway, or worse, being stuck at work and missing one of my graduate classes? I knew what I should do.

That day, I was forced to stop. As I sat at the repair shop waiting for my car to be diagnosed, I had a break down of my own. I realized my “check engine” light had been on for a while, and I had responded in the same manner as I had with my car. I would acknowledge I needed to take time to stop, but tell myself I was too busy and I would do it later. My check engine light was not only signaling my need for rest; it was alerting me to my need for spiritual, self-care. My prayer life was becoming hurried and generic. I was continually over-committing myself to “good causes.” I felt like I had less and less to give. My spiritual life and my being were tired.

One of my classmates preached on Ash Wednesday and compared the Lenten theme of being in the desert with the burnout that happens when people continue to give to others until they are dry and depleted and have no more to give. Up until Ash Wednesday, I had been reflecting on what to do/change/alter in my life during Lent. As I listened to the words of my classmate, I realized she was describing me. She was describing what happens when I kept running on fumes. I knew what I needed to do. I needed to plan time to stop and listen. I needed schedule in more time for prayer, instead of squeezing into my limited free time. I needed to recognize the dryness of the desert and my need for renewal.

In the end, I am grateful to my car for breaking down. I am grateful that I was forced to stop and sit still. I realize I need more than just the regular maintenances of prayer, mass and service to others. Lent is the chance to have the inner-inspection that can only happen with adequate amounts of time, in stillness and with our Creator.

M. Nelle Carty is in her final semester of her Master of Divinity at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. She is looking forward to having time for introspection and stillness on a four-day, silent retreat this weekend.

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