Today I had the task of transporting a long slim person back to his university accommodation. He has been occupying a room at our house for the Christmas vacation. Because he is unable to leave any of his belongings in his room during vacations we have to fill our car with them (and him) at the beginning and end of each term.
This morning I was pootling along the A 12 to carry out this term’s delivery when there was a brief knocking sound from the front nearside wheel arch of our car. Shortly afterwards the steering started to feel funny and the car started to pull to the left. When it was safe to do so I pulled off to the side of the road and checked the tyre. It had acquired an overly soggy consistency that my keen mechanic’s brain identified as a puncture. I noticed that a little further down the road was a roadside cafe and layby so I pootled more gently down the road and pulled in.
I was busy changing the tyre (and bemoaning the inadequacy of the tools supplied by the car manufacturer) when I got to the point where I had to undo the wheel nuts. The wheel brace was applied was only about 6 inches long and did not provide any leverage so it was virtually impossible to take the wheel nuts off. Slightly shamefacedly I called out the RAC and a very nice man arrived about half an hour later with all the right tools to change the wheel.
Our car has what is known as a ‘space saver’ wheel which is about half the width of our normal wheels and is intended simply to get you to somewhere where you can buy a new tyre. A quick search on the Internet (smart phones are wonderful) showed me that there was a reputable tyre retailer in the next town so we pootled gently along the A 12 towards it. Space saver wheels are limited to about 50 miles an hour and I tried to keep to about 40, just to be sure. It was quite alarming when I looked in my rearview mirror from time to time and saw enormous juggernauts hurtling towards the rear of our car and swerving past us at the last minute as the driver realised we were not going as fast as he thought we were.
To cut a very long story short (or at least shortish) we got a new tyre fitted and son and kit were delivered successfully.
On the journey back I thought a bit more about the space saver wheel. It fitted perfectly and did the job it was designed for. But it would have been inadequate as a full-sized wheel. it was not designed for travelling at motorway speeds, might have struggled with a full load, and looked incredibly wimpy and weedy compared to the other wheels.
How often have people in churches stepped in to volunteer to help with something – to be a space saver wheel – only to find themselves being treated as if they were a full-sized wheel and finding that they have got a job for life? I have often thought that if we are asking for somebody to help us with something we really ought to put a review / time limit on it and give them a get out clause: perhaps they should shout “I’m a volunteer get me out of here”!
But I have also experienced situations where people have started off as a space saver wheel and found that God has given them the aptitude, the attitude and the desire to grow into that task. We discover previously unknown talents and that we actually quite enjoy what we thought would terrify us.
I wonder if the difference is that the pressed volunteer who is filling a gap only because there is a gap to be filled is not looking at it as an opportunity to be stretched and grow but rather (graciously) is doing it out of loyalty. In their own mind they will only ever be a space saver wheel, waiting (desperately) for the proper wheel to be fitted. The volunteer who sees the gap and offers to fill it because they feel that God might be able to use them is approaching it from a completely different direction: “Here I am, send me” is very different to “there’s nobody else, I might as well do it.” I think God can use the former far more than he can use the latter.
What do you think?
Be blessed, be a blessing