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Dave Brisbin

Redefining Pointless

So I’m on my way in to an event at our church.

We’ve got a well-known guest musician coming in, there are additional details to deal with, I’m running late, and nearly out of gas. Not a good combination. Of course the gas station is packed, and I’m marooned in confused lines trying to maneuver into the one that will put the pump on the right side of the van. I feel tension mounting and time ticking as I finally get a receipt and swing around to escape.

One more gauntlet to run: the car wash next to the station is also full tilt, cars coming and going, and just as I’m about to make the street, a freshly washed sedan pulls out in front of me from the drying area. Hitting brakes, last straw poking last nerve, I look down from van height into the sedan to see a small round face pressed to the driver’s window looking up at me from behind thick glasses.

And he’s not just looking but hugely, face splittingly ginning and waving. And it’s a full beat or two until I realize that he’s a car wash employee and his round face is Down syndrome. I feel tension deflate; the frustration and anger and things I wanted to shout out the window lay on the floor as I realize his grin and hand are saying: Look at me! Isn’t this great? I get to drive these cars, can you believe it? He couldn’t have been more excited or prouder of himself if he’d won Pulitzer or Presidency. Pure unadulterated elation for what most of us would be ashamed to admit we were paid to do.


When my wife became pregnant with our youngest child at 42, the first thing the nurse asked with the positive test still in her hand: Do you want to keep it? The possibility of Down’s or spina bifida, the complications of pregnancy and child rearing later in life–did we want that?

We all have our notions of what is pointless in life. Substandard jobs, disabilities, birth defects, unrealized potential… What is a pointless life? One that doesn’t lead to the outcomes we desire? Or someone else desires for us? Is life all about outcome? We live that way. All our moments lined up and pointed at distant objects that define the quality of our experience herenow or defer our experience of anything at all in favor of ever receding expectation.

When Jesus’ followers berate a woman for pouring expensive perfume over Jesus’ head, wasting what could have been sold and given to the poor, Jesus berates them back saying: You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. Though his point is really not about the poor, but about motives other than love, it does frame a question. Is caring for the poor pointless because there will always be poor among us? Is there any value to acts that exist only as long as they ring in the air, that begin and fully end herenow and don’t point anywhere else?

If we can’t find value apart from outcome, we will never find contentment. Never enter Kingdom. Never breathe from our heels or smile from our ears because we get to drive a car forty feet across a parking lot. We’ll never learn that moments don’t point or lead anywhere, only our minds do that, taking us with them out of the only perfect place we’ll ever occupy: this here, this now.

We need to redefine pointless.

Pointless is not a life that doesn’t lead to expected outcome. Pointless is never once living as if you’d rather be a Down syndrome boy driving a freshly washed car than a busy pastor on the way to a gig.

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