Many years ago, when I was 24 years old, God used an orange Volkswagen Rabbit, a sporty red Audi, and a toll-taker to teach me a valuable lesson that I’ve carried with me to this day.
My husband and I had been married a few years and, like many newly married couples, we had no money. I was driving the ugliest car on earth, an orange Volkswagen Rabbit.
There are several reasons why this car was the ugliest car on earth. Reason one – it was orange, my least favorite color. Not just my least favorite, but the color I detest the most. The color orange offends my eyes.
Secondly, it was ugly because it was old, and rusting and falling apart. So much so, that when it rained, water collected in the hatchback. And I don’t remember the interior being much to look at either.
But it was transportation. And it got me back and forth to work each day. At that time, I was working with my mother and step-father at their medical practice. Every day when I drove to work, I had to pay a toll to cross the Charter Oak Bridge in E. Hartford, CT. Every day, as I approached the toll, I would pull all the way over to the toll booth at the far right. The center ones always had the longest lines and I wanted to avoid all that. Every day, I would give my pre-paid toll ticket to the same ticket taker in the booth all the way to the right. And every day it was me in my ugly-as-sin old beat up orange Volkswagen Rabbit. And every day, the toll taker would not say a word to me or even look my way. He would just take my ticket.
That is until one day, my ugly orange Volkswagen Rabbit stopped working and had to go to the shop. Since my husband and I had very little money, we couldn’t afford for me to miss work on top of having a car repair bill. Also, my mother and step-father liked having me in the office to get things done. They liked being able to go to lunch together while I was in the office, answering phones and being there in case any afternoon patients showed up early.
So, it was a win-win scenario for my mother and step-father to let me drive one of their cars until my ugly orange car got fixed. I don’t know why, but the car they chose to let me borrow was a sporty, not orange, but cherry-red newer model Audi. It definitely was a giant step up from my ugly old car.
The next day, I got ready for work as usual, got in the cherry-red Audi and headed to the office. And as usual, I pulled all the way to the toll booth to the right to give the toll taker my ticket. But, not as usual, the toll taker didn’t ignore me. That day, he decided to say, “Well, hellloooooo!”
The exchange literally took seconds. I handed him my ticket and he said hello. But that exchange taught me a valuable lesson. Because his greeting that day made me very angry.
It made me angry because suddenly , I was worthy of his hello. It was still me driving through the toll booth, handing him my ticket. The only difference was that day, I was driving a cherry-red Audi instead of an ugly orange Rabbit. The drastic change in my vehicle somehow had increased my value in his eyes.
But my value, and yours, is not derived from the kind of car we drive, the house we live in, or the price of the clothes we wear. Our value is derived from who we are in the eyes of God. We are His creation and He is crazy in love with His children. Brennan Manning put it this way, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”
I’m not sure why anger was the emotion that “hello” stirred in me that day. It just felt so wrong to me that the car I was in somehow made me better in the toll taker’s eyes. I still bristle inside to this day when I feel pressure to “be” or “do” something because it might make someone think better of me.
I know of a couple who once owned a financial planning business. When they first started out, they decorated their office as best they could. And knowing this couple the way I do, I’m sure the office looked just fine.
One day, a well-dressed man walked into the office. The wife, who was the receptionist, asked, “May I help you?”
“No, thanks,” said the gentleman, “I’m just looking around.”
And after he examined every piece of furniture and picture on the wall, he walked out. The couple assumed that because their office wasn’t decorated grandly enough, he didn’t think they were successful enough to handle his finances.
(That was a big assumption; he could have just been a weirdo.)
So, trying to make the “right” impression on future potential clients, the couple spent thousands and thousands of dollars redecorating their office.
That story makes me cringe.
I am a real estate agent. I have to prospect for new clients all the time. If I had to spend thousands of dollars to impress someone with my “success”, then that person just isn’t meant to be my client.
Gary Keller (co-founder of Keller Williams real estate) put it perfectly at our last convention when he was encouraging agents not to go into debt to build their businesses. He was talking about buying a sensible car for our real estate business. Gary said that many agents feel they have to drive an expensive or fancy car to impress their clients. He hit a home run with me when he said, “If a client is judging your ability as a real estate agent based on the car you drive, you have an idiot for a client.”
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”
So it is an illusion when we think we are more, or better, or successful because of “things” – things we wear or drive or own. Our value, our only value, comes from the value God places on us. This goes totally against what society tells us. The world tells us to amass “stuff” and the more stuff we get will make us happy and important.
Dave Ramsey says in his Financial Peace class, “We buy cars we can’t afford to impress people we’ll never see again at red lights.”
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God…”
Now that my husband and I have been married for nearly 27 years and have had job promotions and salary increases – and yes, have amassed more “stuff”, I ask God to always help me remember to be defined by who I am in His eyes and not by anything else that doesn’t really matter anyway.