1982
My Car Taught Me to Pray
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“My Car Taught Me to Pray,” Ensign, Sept. 1982, 28–29

My Car Taught Me to Pray

There we were, stranded on the Desert Road several hundred kilometers from home. Our car didn’t want to start, and there was no one around to help us. It was after midnight, and winter was having one last sally before giving way to spring.

The Desert Road is on the volcanic plateau near the heart of the North Island of New Zealand. While it isn’t a desert of sand dunes, it is still so bleak and barren that its major use is as an army training ground. Definitely not the place for a young family to be marooned.

When we passed through the area on our southward trip from Auckland, we had been pursued by a snowstorm, the first we had ever seen. Now, homeward bound, it wasn’t snowing—just bitterly cold.

If we had been in our old car, I might have been able to do something to fix it through sheer familiarity. But that squat new engine with its attendant wires and hoses was too much to tackle in the dark. We sat there behind the fogged-over windscreen and wondered what to do.

That was when we decided to pray. And that was how, a few minutes later, we were able to start the car and drive on our way without even a hint of a problem.

We arrived home still not knowing what had been wrong with the car. But the next time we tried to use it, the car rolled a few yards and stopped. A daylight check under the hood quickly revealed the cause. As soon as I touched the lead between the distributor and the coil, it fell away, revealing a bright green splash of corrosion.

“You couldn’t have gone far like that,” said a friend who offered to help. But we had. All the way from the Desert Road, in fact. All that way on four wheels and a prayer.

Now, I recognize that this sort of thing doesn’t happen every time you need help with car trouble. But it worked that time for us—a time when we sorely needed the help. I had developed the habit of prayer early in life and had used it to search out the answers to big problems. I had also been diligent about personal daily prayers. But the Lord must have decided to use cars to teach me that there are no limits to prayer, that there is nothing so mundane that it is beyond our Father’s concern.

On a sweltering summer day several years earlier, we made a trip to an orchard on the outskirts of town to buy fruit and vegetables. The car we owned at that time had been trundling about this earth as long as I had, and had become just as eccentric. A few days earlier, a friend had helped me cannibalize a wreck and fit its carburetor to my old car. And there we were, rolling back from the orchard with a full load of goodies, when all of a sudden the motor made ghastly noises and choked to a stop.

“Fuel blockage,” I announced. “Won’t be long, folks.”

Up with the hood. Unscrew some bolts. Clean the jets. Check the float. Bolt it all back together. “All right, give it a try now.” Another series of painful splutters with no sign of the motor starting. I tried again—and again and again. The sun beat down. My brow streamed with perspiration. My temper rose until I thumped the motor and shouted in indignation.

At that moment, my wife leaned out the window and sweetly passed on the information that our four-year-old son thought it was time we said a prayer.

I had never felt less like praying, but as head of the family I had to set an example. Grudgingly, I stood there in the road, head bowed, and prayed. No sooner had I said “Amen” than a sweet spirit washed over me, and it was as though the anger had never existed. I felt, rather than heard, a quiet voice say, “Forget about the float and the jets—look under the carburetor cap.”

My mood changed to embarrassment as I scraped away a huge blob of dirt from the carburetor and reassembled the device. The final touch came as we drove away and a not-so-still voice from the back seat said, “I told you so, daddy.”

I was amazed that something so trivial as petrol blockage in an old car could teach me so much. And then I realized how fitting it was that someone who subconsciously believed there were problems too trivial for God to handle should be shown so firmly, but lovingly, how wrong he could be.

  • Mervyn Ian Dykes, a public relations executive and writer, is a Sunday School teacher and seventies president in his Wellington, New Zealand, ward.