Rector's Ramblings February 3, 2021
I’ve always enjoyed problem solving. Not that problems are fun in and of themselves, but I’ve always enjoyed looking into a problem and coming up with a solution. I suppose I like to let my inner MacGyver play once in a while. I think it started when I was a kid. I used to like brain teasers and riddles. I wouldn’t always get them right, but I sure did like the process of trying to figure them out. One of my children has inherited this sort of strange appreciation and keeps asking to go to an escape room. After the pandemic lightens up, I think we’ll try that.
Problem solving and learning new things are part of the reason I enjoyed having a Jeep. Yes, that’s past tense. I sold it several months ago. I had found that problem solving car issues is only fun for so long. It gets old and it gets expensive. I needed something I could rely on a bit more, so after I had it all ship-shape and purring, I sold it. I lost money on it after putting so much into repairs, but it also kept me out of trouble for a year, so there’s that. I wanted a more reliable car and came back to the Toyota family, which we’ve driven for years.
The replacement SUV is also an older car. It’s a year older than the Jeep, but has fewer miles. Being a Toyota, it has required a lot less repair. I’ve had it now for almost a year, and I’ve made two repairs, one a known issue with an original part that was known to wear out and was never replaced, and now one that really let me scratch my problem solving itch. I felt like it was a race against the clock to come up with an answer. I knew that what I was seeing and hearing wasn’t right, even if Toyota told me they couldn’t tell me what was wrong.
Briefly, here’s the issue: my braking system uses a brake booster with an accumulator to help force pressure into the system when it needs it. That booster assembly would cycle like clockwork every nine seconds (every three after Toyota messed with it). It put enough strain on the alternator that the headlights would dim and the RPM’s would visibly hiccup with every cycle. I started to worry about a very expensive impending brake system repair. Although my first round of internet sleuthing didn’t turn anything up, when it also started to squeak every three seconds, I tried again.
This time, I discovered a lowly YouTube video in the back corner of the internet that described a similar problem with a different Toyota SUV that has the same parts. The man who made the video for his car repair channel said that he had a quick, inexpensive solution that would not require the expensive repairs the dealer would often suggest as a fix for the problem. Between the booster pump and the accumulator, there is a little plunger-like tube that moves up and down against a spring, as the fluid pressure changes. It gets dirty or worn and starts to bind up and the system has to work hard to keep the fluid moving. All you have to do, he assured me, was unscrew the accumulator, replace the tube and the spring (and the O-ring as a precaution) and it would be better. Surely, it couldn’t really be that simple, could it? Eleven dollars in parts and ten minutes of my time?
It was. Despite what so many forums on the webs hadn’t been able to address, despite our local Toyota dealership, who said it was fine, and despite what any of the other owners I spoke to knew, it was that simple. It’s entirely possible I could have been facing a $2000 repair had I not stumbled on that little video. I’m still a little surprised – pleasantly of course.
Problem solving comes in handy in life. We face a lot of problems, as it turns out. They aren’t all fixed with a few bucks and a few minutes, but neither will all of them end up being the huge and expensive sort. If we are thoughtful and creative, we can start with the easy routes and figure out when it’s time to call in the expert or go for broke. It’s sort of like the guy who goes to the doctor and says, “My arm hurts when I go like this.” To which the doctor says, “Don’t do that and it won’t hurt!” On occasion that works. Other times we go see a surgeon! Sometimes solutions are easy and multifaceted at the same time.
Our God is also a pragmatic problem solver as it turns out. Some of God’s solutions are both simple and very complex. When God discovered there was a sin problem, one way of understanding God’s solution was for God to say, “Never mind about sin. I love you no matter what.” Oh really? That sounds easy enough. Turns out it isn’t. It certainly wasn’t for Jesus, and it still isn’t easy for us (at least not easy to accept). Another way of looking at it is to imagine Jesus saying, “Sin? Well don’t do that!” Ah yes, why didn’t I think of that?
I suppose my point is that with enough miles we’re going to have to solve some problems, and while some will seem huge, we’ll find a relatively simple way to deal with them. Others may sneak up on us and be enormous without our ever coming to realize it. With the help that comes through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we’ll find our way forward, even if we have to MacGyver-up some paperclips and chewing gum. Lots of people will have lots of solutions to our problems, but one of the best starting places is easy and free, no matter what the issue: lift it up in prayer and listen for the Holy Spirit’s response. It’s not always audible with a squeak or visible like the lights blinking, but with enough practice we will often hear something that helps us keep moving.
Don’t worry though. If you like problem solving, you’ll still have plenty to keep you busy, based on my experience. It’s a pretty reliable reality that there will be other challenges with each one we solve. But let the easier ones be easy when we can. We all need an easy win now and then.
O heavenly Father, who hast filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works; that, rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may learn to serve thee with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Photo Credit: “Brain Teaser,” by Simon Child, GB via thenounproject.com, shared with Creative Commons license CC BY 3.0.