Brake repair Odyssey

You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first… you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. … And, oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation. — Prophecy of the blind seer, from the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

blind-seerAfter 18 years of service, the brake fluid reservoir in my truck cracked and started leaking. Since the ability to stop is considered by experts a necessary part of surviving the driving experience, I endeavored to make a repair.

I Googled up a replacement and figured this would be a quick and easy fix. But for some reason known only to the people at, you cannot buy a reservoir tank without buying the master brake cylinder it sits on. Yes, they are separate parts; no, you can’t get them separately. I guess there isn’t much profit in a 30 cent piece of plastic, but tack on a $40 piece of machined aluminum and you might be able to send the kids to college.

No problem. I figured the master cylinder was about due for replacement. But now, instead of a 5-minute job I was looking at a couple of hours of work. And I’d need to find an assistant to help me bleed the air out of the brake lines.

After 3 hours toiling in the sun, I finished the job without injury to myself or my truck. But it got me thinking about how often the thing we want to accomplish requires us to do a half-dozen things we would rather avoid. This principle can be expressed as follows:

For any desirable goal (x), there will be a number of obstacles standing in the way of that goal (y1, y2, y3 … yn).

The achievement of anything of significance — whether it’s losing 30 pounds or running a marathon or learning to speak French — requires a long and disciplined series of steps to get there. What keeps most of us from accomplishing big, hairy goals is not so much the size of the goal itself as the hard-slogging discipline needed to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way.

But frustrating as it is to have to deal with those inevitable obstacles, reaching your goal makes it all seem worthwhile. After my brake job I was greasy and dirty and splattered with brake fluid. But my truck was in much better shape than if I had simply replaced the reservoir. And, since I had never done this job on this particular model of truck before, I’d learned a few new tricks in the process. Success felt good.

The Apostle Peter makes a similar observation about faith.

On that day you will be glad, even if you have to go through many hard trials for a while. Your faith will be like gold that has been tested in a fire. And these trials will prove that your faith is worth much more than gold that can be destroyed. — 1 Peter 1:6-7, CEV

Faith, Peter says, is more precious than gold. And like gold, faith has to be refined in the furnace of hard knocks to burn away the impurities. The obstacles and challenges we run into may be unwelcome, but they serve a good purpose — God uses them to strengthen and refine our faith.

I don’t wish to make light of the true hardships and pain that are so common in life. We are sometimes battered so hard that we wonder if we’ll survive. It is no comfort at such times to be told that there might be some ultimate good just around the bend, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But as Psalm 100:5 says, “The Lord is good, his steadfast love endures forever, his faithfulness to all generations.” Those facts are meant to be our foundation when faced with challenges. Life is hard, but God is good. The world can be faithless, but God is faithful. Life can be cruel, but God loves us steadfastly. The Lord, in other words, never changes in good times or bad, and never abandons us in the midst of hardship.

In your life there will be oh, so many startlements. Fear not the obstacles in your path, for God himself has vouchsafed your reward, and will use them to prove your faith.

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  1. Thanks for this encouragement, Charlie; I enjoyed reading and ‘hearing’ it.

    My own project, … has by some measurements, taken twenty years, ten by another and four by yet another — to arrive at this point…and, yes, ‘oh so many startlements’.

    Even this week, when I would ideally be relaxing, enjoying the UK’s first spell of sustained springtime sunshine and preparing for my final leg of my doctoral studies, reading and enjoying the test match cricket (yay!) — instead I am grappling with individuals who continue to let me and others down with respect to recent renovations on my old house, which I rent out.

    “Small beer,” for sure, in comparison to some of the real trials — of which there have been many over the years — but that was why I enjoyed the term startlements — as well as those major trials, it covers so many of the smaller stresses and strains, which emerge so unexpectedly and rob us of our joy!

    So, even though the road is straighter and visible further ahead than it has been for years, the “hard slogging discipline” is not yet over…

    Chin up and onward!

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