Watching my dad get ready to buy a car is like watching Iron Man suit up.
Most of the time he’s living life in Tony Stark mode, complete with the social calendar, mad cash, and high-class ladies.** It’s impressive enough on its own. But prepping to buy a new car? Take the ten most awe-inspiring things you’ve ever seen in your life, then imagine each of them individually getting airborne and attaching to a person like pieces of the Iron Man armor. Then go in the bathroom and gel all of your hair straight up in the air. Now start calling your laptop ‘Jarvis’. That’s our experience watching Dad go into Car Purchase mode.
**- 10AM movies with AARP discount, church treasurer, Mom.
The point being, my dad just plain loves buying a vehicle. It’s like Christmas morning for him, the only difference being that at the end of it he’ll have something he actually wants. I’d love it too if I was as good at it as he is. My dad is one of the few apex predators in the automobile ecosystem. When you introduce Pops Larson into the jungle of the dealership, he takes the express elevator to the top of the food chain. His new kingdom is the sales lot, one that he surveys like Simba and Mufasa standing on Pride Rock in ‘The Lion King’. Look at it. Everything the instant coffee touches belongs to me. He’s an ecological game-changer.
Here’s a quick list of all the ways nature has evolved my dad to walk into a car-buying situation and mix up the environment like a protein shake.
As a strategy, car dealers prey on their customers’ impatience. They’ll take your offer “in back to check with a manager” and then make you wait so that your impatience defeats your good judgment. Make my dad wait? He’s an introvert. He loves to wait. Waiting is his absolute favorite, especially when he’s got books, and thanks to his Kindle now he always does. You can’t tell an introvert to hang out for six hours and not take their books away. That’s like sending a child to time-out at a Skee-Ball tournament.
If you want to play chess, just get the cribbage board out instead because he already planned a hundred ways to checkmate you and he’s ready for a different game. The CEO of Franklin-Covey calls him to ask what he’s supposed to be doing that day. Dad’s huge into the planning game. By Car Buying Day, he’s already logged multiple weeks of research prep and strategy. He’s got stacks of data on market trends, inventory levels and average sales prices, found 4 backup cars he’ll be content with if he doesn’t get his price, he’s DVR’ing House Hunters International and he packed a Thermos. Move anywhere you want, dealer- the web is already woven.
3) Only child.
Only children grow up with a strong need to have their own way all the time, so the stereotype goes (the word stereotype meaning “true whether you write it forwards or backwards.” Example: saying “Only children always get their own way is an epytoerets” doesn’t make it less true. It just makes that sentence more of a waste of both our time.) My dad is a functional only child**. “Oh, you had a plan, car dealer? Mark Larson, solo progeny, great to meet you. I’ll just be over by the sedans bending you to my will with my only-child Force powers.”
**- Functional, in the sense that a large age gap between children resets the birth order traits. Not in the sense that most only children are dysfunctional.
Nowhere’s calling his name- he can be in this place all day and again tomorrow. Better yet, he wants to be here all day. The only line on his Bucket List is ‘victory’.
and finally, 5) HATES salesmen.
This last one is his most powerful tool, actually. My dad’s aversion to salesmen is so intense that he once paid me not to work during the summer when I decided I was going to sell Cutco knives for a job.** When he coached my Little League team, rather than have the kids who couldn’t afford it sell candy bars door-to-door to raise the money, he would just buy them all so that they wouldn’t have to.** Plus, talking with salespeople usually involves one of his three least favorite things- a) getting convinced to buy something he already decided he doesn’t need, b) using the phone, or c) answering the front door.
**- A good decision in retrospect- not really my skill set at 20 years old. My friend Donny made a killing doing this, but he’s like Ferris Bueller with more charisma.
**- Also: it’s candy.
Luckily for my dad, most salespeople don’t go door-to-door anymore. Not many people do, really. I think it’s been at least six months since the last time someone knocked on my front door that I wasn’t already expecting. It’s probably the same for you. We’re just not much of a knocking culture anymore in America, and as a result we’re not really knocking people.
I bring this up because Jesus uses this idea of knocking in one of his most famous passages on praying, the third in a triplet of images that root the act of prayer in commonplace experiences . Luke 11- “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Jesus’ audience two thousand years ago would have been veteran door-knockers, intimately familiar with every element of the experience. The ‘knock’ image was both universal and common to a culture where communities were tight and people communicated primarily through face-to-face speech. For them, the word would have been immediately evocative of a particular, regular experience, and thus a powerful metaphor.
In contrast, our lack of knocking experience puts us in some poverty with this verse. The other two images remain fresh for us to meditate on- we still ask, we still seek- but at knocking we get lost. ‘Knock’ is just a much less powerful analogy for us. Knock and the door will be opened? Okay- I mean, that makes sense, right? When you knock, people answer the door. That’s how it works. Got it. Knock. I totally get it, I do.
There’s a lot going on when you pay attention to the door-knocking experience. That not-quite-pain-but-it-still-doesn’t-feel-great sensation in the knuckles during a quality knock. The pulse that the *rap* on the door sends up the arm to the elbow. Planning what greeting to use first- “Hello? What’s up? Bongiorno?” Deciding the right place to stand- “Here? Too close. Here? Wait, now I’m in the street.” And the almost imperceptible tension we feel while we wait for the door to be opened.
It’s this last thing- that tension- that most interests me. Have you ever noticed this? There’s something that happens in between the first knocks on a door and when that door opens up. It’s a tension, almost an anxiety, one that’s rooted in uncertainty. If there wasn’t a door in front of us, we could just peek inside and see if the person is home. But the door obstructs our view, and as result introduces uncertainty into the equation. Our knock poses both a statement and a question: I’m here. Are you there? That microscopic iota of tension that we feel on the front steps is that couplet. Here I am. Where are you?
Most of us- I think, I hope- have had the experience of receiving answer to prayer. We pray for something, and- surprise!- get a response. We’re not feeling well, and after a prayer for healing we feel better again. We need a job, and after praying we’re called back for an interview. Money is due on the mortgage, money we don’t have, and after a request for God’s provision, funds are miraculously supplied. Answered prayers. These moments are like the times we knocked and almost instantly heard sounds from inside the house- footsteps on the floorboards, muffled voices, the lock clicking open. The anxiety of knocking is relieved instantly. God heard us. There is someone behind the door.
But other times, we don’t seem to get an answer.
We knock- once, twice, three times. Stand on the porch for a minute, waiting. Knock again. Nothing from behind the door. The uncertainty grows inside us. Is anybody home? We put our ear to the wood, trying to listen to the inside of the muted house, peering through the window only to find the lights turned off. We knocked just like we were told to. Surely we were expected? Why isn’t anyone answering? There are no signs of life anywhere. Our prayers don’t seem be getting through. Didn’t God hear us? Is there anyone behind the door?
The job that won’t materialize. The pregnancy that doesn’t come. The depression that won’t lift. Knuckles on the wood. Knock. Knock. Knock.
The prodigal child. The broken relationship. The struggling marriage. Now a fist. Bam! Bam! Bam!
Persistent sin. Unhealed wounds. Unchanging situations. The back of our head. Thud. Thud. Thud.
We know how this knocking feels sometimes, or at least I do. Maybe the door swings wide, maybe it stays shut. Sometimes “I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me… the Lord is for me, He will help me.”(Psalm 118), sometimes “Lord, I cry out. I keep on pleading day by day.” (Psalm 87)
Navigating that tension can be discouraging. How do I make my prayers work? Why can’t I get answers? What am I doing wrong?
In those times, I recall that doors are not the only ‘entrance’ metaphor in the Bible. There’s one more: the veil.
In the Tabernacle, the veil separated the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence dwelled, from the priests and the people. Access to God was reserved for a select few, and never ordinary people. Later, at Jesus’ crucifixion the fabric in the temple was torn in two, symbolically opening the throne room of God to everyone through Jesus’ blood. What started as a wall, God made into an entrance.
Putting these two entrance metaphors together gives names to our praying experiences. Veils, the freedom with which God allows us to have a one-to-one encounter. Doors, the frustration of relating to that which is wholly invisible and wholly unlike us. Veils, God’s affirmation of our identity as beloved creations. Doors, the way God keeps our attention, shapes us into persistent people, trains our ears to hear the slightest rustle of him around us. When it seems like we’re doing it all wrong, entrances provide a vocabulary for what normal prayer looks and feels like.
Further, how we enter something shapes our experience of whatever is beyond the entrance. This is why people have weddings. Anybody can elope. Get a legal document signed and bam, done, good luck out there. There’s a wedding because it’s an entrance, a walk through a door from one kind of life to another. We want that entrance to be a celebration, an encouragement, a gathering of friends and family, a ceremony- all so that the life that follows after can be shaped by the experience of passing through that door.
What we discover is this: in the frustration and angst of unanswered prayer, God gives us grace through entrances. Veiled door after doored veil, each experience disciples us into the people we always hoped to become- people of depth and wisdom, faithfulness and love. Each step through leads us deeper into lives we barely dared to dream of having- lives of purpose and passion, of courage and joy.
None of this really helps with the question of unanswered prayer, of course, nor does it alleviate the difficulty. That tension remains, probably for always. But seeing prayer through the lens of entrance, how it both names our experiences and offers us its own promise of fruitfulness, helps take the edge off that sense of futility. Whether or not we get answers, we always have entrances.
Now, Jarvis, find me the nearest car dealership. My dad is getting restless.