Faith Lessons From My Water Heater
A few weeks ago I heard a scream from the other side of the house, so I ran to see what was happening. It was my youngest daughter Anna in the shower and we had run out of hot water. She clearly wasn’t prepared for the water to turn that cold, that fast. I assumed the pilot light had gone out on the gas water heater, so I went into our garage to investigate. My assumption was correct, so I started the process of re-lighting the pilot and trying not to blow up the house.
I successfully got the pilot light back on and then watched as it lit the burner to start heating the water again. It occurred to me that my spiritual life functions a lot like that water heater. There seem to be three different aspects to this functionality: I have times that there is plenty of Spirit (hot water) and things seem to be going like they are “supposed” to. Other times, I may be running low on Spirit and that burner needs to kick on to heat things back up. Then there are times it feels like there is no Spirit at all – and I feel like the pilot light has gone out. As I make this analogy, I ask myself “who is responsible for making sure this water heater is working like it should?” The answer, of course, is me. If God is perfect and always with us – and I believe He is – then I have to do my part.
What exactly is “doing our part?” Modern life is so hectic and has so many distractions, that it often requires effort for us to spend time with God. A sermon on Sunday every now and then probably won’t get it done. I have a pastor-friend who says “even the best sermon in the world is only going to get you to about Tuesday.” That’s how much is out there in the world competing for our time, attention, and thoughts. So, back to my water heater … so much of that analogy is tied to what is going on in our everyday lives at any particular time.
Unfortunately, most of the time my water heater seems to be running low on hot water. I attribute that mostly to my lack of paying attention to God. I have to “look” for His voice more – which, for me, is not a voice. I’ve said many times that I ache for the voice of God to sound like James Earl Jones and give me the “Jim, I’m your Father” line from Star Wars … tell me what to do and everything is going to be ok. But, for whatever reason, the Lord has decided not to communicate with me that way, so I try and see God in everyday circumstances. It may be at church, but more likely for me, it’s when I’m alone in some nature setting where I can clear my mind and focus.
The worst times are obviously when the water is freezing and it feels as though the pilot light has gone out. In 2006, my wife and I were both diagnosed with advanced stage cancers, and I spent some time in that frigid water. I don’t know if cancer blew that light out, or I did, but it was awful. I don’t think there even has to be a crisis for the light to go out. The everyday grind of normal life can set us on a path to the three “R”s. These aren’t the ones we learned in school. I’m talking about routine, repetition, and ritual. Things become the exact same day after day, and it becomes monotonous and soul-sucking.
There are times I feel like the water heater is running exactly like it should, but those moments are fleeting for me. I call those times the “real stuff.” What is the “real stuff” you ask? Put your highlighter down if you were going to mark these next few sentences because I’m not sure I have an adequate way to describe or define it. For me, it’s like a different level of feeling or how I experience what’s happening around me. I’m semi-famous among friends and family for getting emotional during sweet TV commercials, special times with my family, spooning with my dog, and watching most Pixar movies. That is not what I’m talking about. It’s a significant feeling deep in my gut, and things come together spiritually and mentally for me at certain times. I embrace those times and yearn for more like them.
Regardless of where your spiritual life is at any given time, remember the water heater. In all three scenarios I’ve described, I have learned to go to God. I am grateful and thank Him for those times when things are running smoothly. I talk, pray, and ask for guidance when I need that burner to kick in for a little more heat. And lastly, during those scream in the shower moments, I do all of the above. But mostly, I surrender all over again - as if I have never done it before.