Friday, October 30, 2009

Beyond Settling

So really. How do you know when you're supposed to be content with something, seize the opportunity available instead of the one you might have wanted, and take things as they come, versus when you're supposed to hold out for something better? How do you know the difference between contentment, resignation, and settling? I've asked these kinds of questions before. Here's a new context for them.

You may have noticed that I keep obliquely mentioning I need to replace my car. Bela Corolla, serviceable as he has been, is rather ailing these days. Even though three years ago he got all new brakes, new tires, a new battery and a new starter, and even though last year he got his wheels re-applied (when they almost fell off) and a couple of other things, this year he's burning oil so that I have to put at least a quart in every week, I can't see how fast I'm going at night (due to all the interior lights having died), and the struts are shot. The car basically clunks along, no matter how smooth the road surface . . . and in Central Massachusetts the road surface is not always very smooth (regardless of ongoing attempts to fix this). There are also more minor cosmetic issues, like the fact that when a droplet of water hits a fabric surface in the car, it spreads to an unremovable stain 1000 times its size. And the fact that one of the lights on the passenger's side is taped on with packing tape.

Car-Shop-Dave, from my church, has been helping me in my quest for a replacement vehicle, and the other day when they were moving cars around at his dealership, he discovered a 2005 Nissan Altima with only 52,000 miles and an excellent Carfax, that he thought would be just what I was looking for. Even though they want to sell it to me for $1000 more than the maximum price I was willing to pay (since I am not entirely sure I have the money for this venture to begin with), yesterday I went in to look at the car.

As soon as I sat in it, I uttered an involuntary sigh, and thought to myself, "I had no idea my car was so uncomfortable!" Car-Shop-Dave and his car shop let me take it home for the night so I could have my mechanics check it out this morning, and naturally, the more I drove it, the more I loved it. But . . . it is still $1000 more than I was willing to pay for it. And . . . I discovered that Bela's trade-in value is only $1000. Not only are all those things wrong that I mentioned before, but I'm sure my Corolla's Carfax tells all and sundry that one particularly rough year, I crashed him. Twice.

There are people who would say God doesn't care about my car needs, mundane as they are, and I'm not one who subscribes to "prosperity gospel." (I find it kind of horrifying, honestly.) However, I do believe He cares about the details of our lives, and I also believe He is able to do, as the Bible says a few times "more than we ask or imagine." I have a pretty good imagination, so that's saying something.

So let's say I had this pipe dream of an expressly environmentally-friendly, safe car which I could somehow get for under $10,000, at payments of only $200 a month. Unlikely, but God can do anything, right? So . . . do I hold out for this? Or, when the opportunity arises to get a car with an excellent reputation and history, which is more comfortable and more spacious than I could have hoped for, but which costs slightly more than I had wanted, and when my car's trade-in value is less than I'd hoped for (though honestly probably better than I should've expected), and they tell me I can make payments of $202 per month, do I take it? Does $202 count as "more than $200 a month"? Or is this some kind of divine dig-in-the-ribs, where God's saying, "Oh no, darling--you don't get out of making an actual decision that easily." (Interestingly, today I saw a car with a license plate saying "UDCIDE." It felt a little more personal than the last one. Who are these people?) Another factor is that the dealership's interest rate isn't that good for financing, but my bank that could give me a better one apparently doesn't deal with them. On the other hand, the car's so good that if I don't decide to buy it by tomorrow at 2 p.m., the dealership owner wants it.

So really. What am I supposed to do? I'm asking. This car's pretty great. I want it. I do. But it's kind of none of the things I asked or imagined. Does this mean I'm settling, or that it's more than I asked or imagined? It doesn't feel like more. It just feels like different.

I have less than 24 hours to figure this out.


Jeff said...

I don't know if this makes it easier... in fact, you've probably looked at it this way already.

But as I was reading your attempts to avoid the prosperity gospel's knuckleheadedness, it occured to me:

My kids could say "I want candy for dinner." They could ask about it all day and all night. If I presented them with a well balanced meal at dinner time, they could take away the lesson "Dad doesn't care about me." or "Dad is not powerful enough to give me what I want." Of course both of these things are dead wrong.

I guess my point is "Yes, God could deliver a car for the amount you've asked." But if God doesn't, it's not a reflection of his love or power.

Jennwith2ns said...

Good point. And yes, I kind of have looked at it that way. But it's a good reminder. ;) Still not sure what to do about financing . . .

Elizabeth said...

Have you checked with your auto insurance company? We were shocked to find out that State Farm had a bank that gave us a MUCH better deal than the car dealership could do. Also, this is just my opinion, but if it really is just a difference $2 a month, I would go for it! Finding a car is hard, and cutting your grocery budget by $2 a month wouldn't be too hard. Good luck and keep us posted! =)

ComAge said...

OK, I'll chime in from out in left field. (Mr. Practicality here.) The only thing better than a Nissan Altima is a Honda Civic or Accord. Those Nissan's go forever! Yer Corolla was a good choice, but nothing beats a Honda! So from a stewardship angle, you are 9 on a 10 scale imho.

Barry Pike said...

Since you asked. Here are a few of my collected opinions.

First, just as practical point, $202 is the same as $ really is. Don't say it's not, because it is. ($198 is also the same as $200, isn't it? Of course it is.)

More to the point, you NEED a good car, do you not? Not just want, but NEED. And there would be nothing wrong with wanting one, for that matter, if your want is well-founded and reasonable. It is clear that you work hard at being fiscally responsible with the resources the Lord has provided you.

As odious as the prosperity gospel is, I believe it is also wrong to foster what our pentecostal brethren call "a spirit of poverty," which, among other things, reduces God into a mizerly skinflint...not the generous, caring Father who takes joy in giving blessing and in equipping His children to do His work.

God is not our sugardaddy, but He is by no means a penny-pinching killjoy, either. The parable of the talents is highly instructive in this whole area, I think. Could it be that you've been faithful with the two talents and so the Lord is now giving you more? To not carefully consider that possibility, that likelihood in this context, is to underestimate God's faithfulness and generosity.

As faithful as the Corolla has been, I can hear the death-rattle wheeze from here, several states away. Not only that, it's obviously not been cheap to keep it limping along the last couple of years. It's on life-support now. Give it up and let it die in peace.

The Nissan is an investment in your safety and your future. It is an opportunity to enjoy a few years of reliable, comfortable, and enjoyable transportation. (It pleases the Lord when we ENJOY the blessings He gives us.) It is certainly a good enough car that it may allow the Lord to open up for you new opportunities for service and personal growth for which you have simply not been eligible with Old Faithful.

Buy the car. My advice is to be grateful and don't look back, except to wave goodbye to the Corolla in the rearview mirror one last time.

Elizabeth said...

Jenn... I'm dying of suspense! Did you end up getting the new car!? :-)