This is my car. It was made in 2003, and it has over 130,000 miles on it. I inherited it a few years ago from my granddaughter, since I always get to drive the oldest and junkiest car in our extended family. It’s served me well never needing any major repairs, so I intend to drive it until one of us can’t function anymore.

You’ll notice that my car has some damage to the right front fender. It happened more than five years ago, when a car parked near mine caught fire, and the heat was too much for my car’s plastic body part. I haven’t wanted to spend the money to repair it. Instead, I decided to look at it as a war injury, or maybe as a pirate’s eye-patch — a badge of heroism.

The other day, I greeted a family in the church parking lot, as they were delivering their son to Altadena Children’s Center. After saying Hi to mom and dad, I sent a special greeting toward junior, who has been a regular at the Center for a couple of years. He didn’t respond. He was too busy staring at my car’s black eye. That cracked me up, because it made me flash back to a conversation I had, a couple of years ago, with some kids and a teacher who were in the play yard when I climbed out of my car. The children were shouting something to me. I heard the word “Owie,” but I needed the teacher to explain to me what they were talking about. Apparently, they had been noticing the car’s damage for a while, and they asked a teacher about it. She explained that my car had an “Owie.” One of the kids asked the obvious question: “Why doesn’t he put a band-aid on it so it can get better?” From then on, the Pastor’s Owie Car was a regular conversation on the playground, and all the kids became aware of it. In my recent encounter, this young boy was finally viewing the legendary Owie Car close up for the first time, and he was mesmerized.

The Apostle Paul had an Owie, which he referred to as his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Bible scholars have debated what Paul’s “thorn” was. My opinion is that Paul had a chronic eye problem that limited him and was often noticeable to others. This is supported by several statements in his letter to the Church at Galatia. He indicates that his “physical infirmity” was what first brought him to their city, maybe because of a particular treatment a doctor there was known for (Galatians 4:13). The Galatian believers were so loving in their concern for him that it seemed, “had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” (4:15). At the end of the handwritten letter, he points out,  See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!” (6:11) When his eye condition was acting up, it really hindered his effectiveness.

In the Corinthian passage mentioned above, Paul says two strikingly different things about his “thorn in the flesh”:

  • It was a “messenger of Satan to torment me” (verse 7) – a potentially powerful evil influence.
  • It was a gift of God’s grace to rescue me: “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’” (verses. 8-9).

Paul embraces this positive aspect of his “infirmity,” and he ends the discussion on this triumphant note: “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (verses 9-10).

Inspired by Paul, I will continue to Own my car’s Owie as a gift of God to keep me humble.*

What’s your Owie? Do you focus on the negative, seeing it as a “messenger of Satan”? Or are you ready to embrace it as a gracious gift of God? Will you Own Your Owie?

*Bonus: The police don’t see this as a hot car they have to keep their eyes on! Young dudes inclined to street-racing don’t drive cars with Owies!

– Pastor George Van Alstine