“What happens when you run out of gas? Does the car just stop?”
“Yes. Well, it slows down. But then it just stops.”
My kids, sitting in the car with me on a rainy morning at the bus stop, were silent as they thought about this. My daughter wondered, “What if you’re on the highway?”
I said “Well, I think you’d just try to pull off as best you can, and call someone for help.”
My son: “Has that ever happened to you?”
“No. It hasn’t. But it might today.”
The gas gauge, which just a moment ago proclaimed “4 miles to empty” now gave me a different warning: “0 miles to empty.” Just the other night it promised 11 miles. That night I had enough gas in my tank get to the gas station and back a couple of times. I didn’t go then. Literally overnight, I lost those eleven miles. I needed those eleven miles.
It was 46 degrees and raining, the type of weather that seeps into your bones and chills you all day long. The kind of weather you definitely don’t want to walk in along the highway to the gas station for a portable container of gas because you ran out.
The school bus arrived, and I hurriedly kissed my kids goodbye and not very patiently waited for the bus to drive away. Barely after it took off, I began my speedy trip to the gas station a couple of miles away, mentally listing names of friends who could bail me out if I got stranded, and cursing myself for toeing the line of an empty gas tank yet again.
Please God don’t leave me stranded. Please God don’t let me run out of gas. Please oh please oh please oh please just let there be enough gas, I shouted in my mind as I zoomed down the road. I prayed as if I was bargaining for my life and the lives of my children. Please just let me make it there.
I wheeled into the gas station on two wheels, imagining my gas tank emptying right then, not a drop to spare. I opened the tank and inserted the gas nozzle and breathed a sigh of relief as the gas poured into the tank. Saved.
* * *
Shortly after my husband and I met, I made arrangements to meet his family at Christmastime. I was visiting my family in Arizona, and I would be flying back to a city three hours away from his family’s home. Three days before my trip out west was to end, I caught the flu. Feverish and nauseated, I spent the last days of my visit in bed. The night of my trip back, I dosed myself with medicine and slept on the plane, only to learn that a snowstorm was making its way through the area.
I remember hoping that my new boyfriend would have realized my need for assistance, having the flu and all, and, knowing that the roads were treacherous, would either have found me a hotel room somewhere or, like a knight in shining armor, would meet me at the airport to drive me to his family’s house.
Neither one happened. After scanning the airport welcome crowd to no avail, finally calling to tell him I made it, I drove through a snowstorm through the night, following the tire tracks of the salt trucks in front of me to avoid sliding off the road. The trip took almost six hours. I arrived safely but exhausted and ill, mumbling my hellos and nice to meet yous in a stupor, quickly falling asleep.
Later I wondered: He knew I was sick, knew it was late, that the weather was dangerous: why didn’t he take care of me better?
* * *
In our house, everyone else gets the first choice. Just take what you want, I say. I’ll make do with what’s left. My husband and I decided that when we had kids, I would take care of the house and our family. For many years this was fine: the needs of our babies and new home were novel, fun, time-consuming, and relatively easy. Caring for children, cleaning the house, making dinner; I took on the tasks willingly; indeed, with gusto. Paint the walls? Pay the bills? Make the appointments? Buy the toilet paper? Don’t mind if I do!
Over the years, though, the tasks have worn on me. I am older, tired. The tasks have become harder, kids’ needs more complex. I need assistance, and only sometimes get it. Worse, my own interests suffer because I spend so much time taking care of everyone else’s needs. Balance is hard.
It’s easy for me to be bitter about it, to resent not being taken care of the way I’ve taken care of everyone else for so long. I complain that all I do is take care of everything: the house, the kids, my husband, and lastly, myself. I come last, always last. Who takes care of me?
* * *
As I pulled away from the gas station, shaking my head at how close I came to walking in the rain, vowing never to cut it that close again with an empty tank, it dawned on me that I had not thanked God for answering my frantic prayers. Minutes before, I was crying out for deliverance, for one last push forward to get me to where I wanted to be, to avoid the inconvenient and possibly dangerous consequences of my own actions.
Thank you, Lord. Thank you so much for doing that for me, for giving me something that I do not deserve, not even a little bit. Thank you for giving me the time, the money, and the ability to do this. Thank you for taking care of me.
In that moment I realized something. Despite all the times I complain about not being taken care of the way I take care of everyone else, the poor me self-pity parties, the spewed rants about how nobody notices anything I do, that God takes care of me. That while I was waiting for my husband to pick me up at the airport so long ago and when I wish he was home to help me pick the kids up from their practices at the same times and when I want someone else to make dinner for the love of Pete, God took care of me, he takes care of me. He delivered me safely to my husband’s family that Christmas; he keeps my kids safe when I am late picking them up; he gives us the food that we need to survive; and he gave me just enough gas to get to the gas station.
I had been looking to be taken care of by other people, to have someone take care of my needs so thoroughly, the way I feel I do for them. And while I was being mad that they didn’t, I was overlooking the fact that they couldn't. They can't. Only God can do that for me.
I’m not special in this way. God takes care of all of us individually, of our personal needs, one by one. He knows us intimately. He knows how to take care of us. And he does it without fail.
Do we always recognize it?
And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19