“I’ve got you in a 2018 red Camaro.”  The Hertz employee, Mike, didn’t look up from his computer screen.

“Yeah, right!”  I snorted.  I’m thirty-two.  You can’t fool me.  I know the manager-choice option through Expedia gave me access to the worst options left in the lot.  Good joke though, Mike!

Mike said nothing, just handed me a set of keys.  The fob listed the year, make, model, and color: 2018, Chevy, Camaro, Red.

“I’m so sorry sir, I didn’t mean to question your character.”  I spat the words out so fast Mike couldn’t help but laugh with me.  

“You’re going to have a good week.”  He said.

My first challenge was space.  My international suitcase was NOT going to fit in the back of this sports car.  

My second challenge was purely spiritual.  This whole trip was precipitated by my need to disconnect from the world and reconnect with God.  I was going to spend four days in the woods of Kentucky hosted by the Sisters of Loretto.  That’s right.  I was headed to nature and nuns in the most flashy car I could think of.  

It was a great object lesson for me.  Our culture is obsessed with suffering.  We compete at the highest level to be the most screwed up, the most stress out, the most victimized.    I drove around the convent property thinking, “I’m just here for retreat; this isn’t my car; don’t judge me for my accidental good fortune!”

Missionaries aren’t exempt from this, the score card just changes: who lives in the most rural location, who has been harassed for bribes the most, who is the most burnt out.  When I tried to live out of joy I was called naive, fake, and immature.

In fact, I’ve witnessed many church workers fall into this perverse philosophy connecting service and suffering.  It seems to stem from a belief that obedience to God equals sacrifice which equals suffering.  So if you aren’t suffering, you aren’t sacrificing and you aren’t being obedient. 

I cry foul on the whole mess.

Suffering is part of living in a sinful world.  It will come and it will go.  God will use it to break us, move us, refine us, and bless us because he’s in the business of restoring and redeeming.  But it’s not direct symptom of obedience and service.  The direct symptoms of obedience and service are actually: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  

Each time I got in the car I heard the Spirit whispering, “I arranged this as a tiny token of my lavishly ridiculous love for you.  Are you really not going to enjoy it because you’re afraid of what other people will think?”

Challenge excepted.  I started smiling everywhere I drove.  I took other people for rides just to share the blessing.  I waved when people honked.  I drove from Nashville to Memphis with the top down in the middle of December.  I got a tiny sunburn on my forehead.

It’s been a rough time for me; I’ve documented that fairly well.  But, it’s also been full of joy and blessing and hope.  I’m not a victim of this fallen world. I’m chosen, blessed, redeemed, and foolishly loved by the creator of the heavens.  That’s the highest reality in which we are all invited to live.  If that reality also includes a Camaro?  It’s just a little cherry on top.