A Clean Car and Other Futile Efforts

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clean carfutile |ˈfyoōtl; –ˌtil |


incapable of producing any useful result; pointless 

Just a few days before Christmas, Mike spent several hours deep cleaning the Suburban.  He enlisted the help of the children to take everything out of the car and put it away. He then vacuumed the car and cleaned all of the interior surfaces and windows and took it to the car wash.  Lastly, he announced to the family that, from now on, we were going to keep our car clean.

The next day, we went attended a family party about an hour away.  We drove home that night in the midst of a blizzard.  When we finally pulled into town we were all anxious to get to bed, but Mike didn’t turn toward home.  Rather, he drove to the car wash to clean off our dirty slush covered Suburban because, if you remember, we were going to keep our car clean.  While he was intently rinsing the exterior of the car, Meggie awoke and began throwing up repeatedly on the inside of it. 

This seemed to be a clear (and clearly depressing) metaphor about my life.  So many things I work so hard to accomplish seem futile in the midst of a life of trials and storms and, of course, eight children. 

It was an especially appropriate metaphor this Christmas.  You see, I resolved this season to focus on the Savior and not to be distracted by anything ancillary.  But it didn’t matter how strong my desire was or how much I prepared in advance, the month blew by like a freight train and basically squashed me flat.  Instead of being spiritual, December was one sleepless night, party, crisis, basketball game, flaming microwave, sick child, church meeting, piano recital, profound disappointment, ER visit and depressing news story after another.  And I have to admit that the fatigue, frustration and depression of it all got the better of me.

Despite my high expectations, we didn’t even do several of our traditions.  We didn’t take out neighborhood goodies or have our Christmas concert/sing-a-long or finish reading A Christmas Carol together or even make Christmas dinner.  Even the traditions we did make happen, like going out to breakfast on Christmas Eve, turned out a little crazy.  In this instance we somehow locked our keys inside our “clean” Suburban and had to walk home in the snow and ice.  

The truth is that we barely survived Christmas this year and I felt like an utter failure!

One gift I received for Christmas, however, has inspired me to think a little deeper.  My sister Melanie gave my family a cork board with the following Richard Scott quote pinned to it:  “Some people are like rocks thrown into a sea of problems.  They are drowned by them.  Be a cork.  When submerged … fight to be free to bob up to serve again with happiness.”

I had been convinced that I had failed and that my efforts were futile.  But this quote helped me see that the only real failure is to give up and sink.  As long as I bob up and try again, my efforts are not futile.  In fact, the word futility should be stricken from my heart because its only purpose is to entice me to fail. 

Many things we do seem like futile efforts.  They seem pointless in the moment. That is why faith is essential.  We have to believe that something good will eventually come of our efforts.  If we don’t have this belief, we have little motivation to do anything good.  In fact, without faith, our only motivation would be instinct or instant gratification.  Faith inspires us to do good things the results of which may take years to manifest.  I love the Albert Schweitzer quote “No ray of sunshine is ever lost but the green that it awakens takes time to sprout … all work worth anything is done in faith.”   

We must have the faith to believe that our efforts will eventually amount to something and the courage to bob up and keep trying even when we feel like giving up and sinking.  If I do this, perhaps someday I might actually have a clean car and a perfectly merry Christmas and maybe even receive blessings greater than my ability to foresee.  As for our family, I have decided to set my expectations completely aside and spend the next Christmas on an exotic vacation. J

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  1. Keisha says

    You eloquently put into words how I have felt doing foster care the last ten years. Thank you, and your sister, for the reminder to keep the faith alive even when you feel like sinking.

  2. Paula says

    You are a great writer, very eloquent indeed, but I can help but feel sorry for Mike! I can just imagine his reaction to such a mess after working so hard to clean out the van!

  3. Janel says

    I never even decorated for Christmas, besides our tree which was put up at the beginning of November as our “Thankful Tree”. No ornaments ever came out of boxes, nor did lights or any of the other typical decor that usually graces our living room. It just didn’t happen this year, despite my best efforts. I didn’t even manage to take any pictures on Christmas Day, yet it was a good day and I have lots of good memories. :)

  4. Mary says

    Thanks Shawna….I thought I had a horrid Christmas…even mentioned to mom it hit the top 5 worst….but, I’m planning for next year and I envision it will be splendid….bobb’n like a cork here.

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