Lessons from a Phone Booth
For all you Millennials and Gen Z’s out there, a phone booth was an ancient rectangular box that housed a public telephone. You entered the booth, pushed the bi-fold door closed, dropped your dime in the slot and made your phone call.
One of the few memories I have of my father was accompanying him to a gas station when I was about five years old. While he was inside the station, my curiosity led me to this intriguing structure. I stepped inside the booth, pushed the door shut (the bi-fold door was spring loaded so that it would automatically close about halfway; a little extra push closed it fully), and began to explore the mysterious world of talking to people in distant locations.
After a little while, curiosity satisfied, I decided to go look for my father. I pushed on the door … and it wouldn’t open. I pushed and pushed and then began to panic when I couldn’t get out. Pretty soon I was hysterical thinking that I was trapped, forever doomed in this glass coffin, lost in a hideous labyrinth that devoured unsuspecting little children.
About that time my father came out of the station, gently pushed the door inward (I was pushing outward, against the hinge of the bi-fold) and, with a hint of a smile at my predicament, released me from the maw of the Ma Bell monster. To calm me down he bought me a Coke – in the old glass bottle that you pulled out of the metal rollers on the side of the cooler (I still remember that clanking sound). Saved by my daddy! All was well again in my little world.
Now you know how I became damaged in childhood. Actually, this little story serves as a parable (Gk. parabole, a casting or placing side by side … with a view to comparison or resemblance). Here are a few lessons from my trauma in the phone booth:
1) Our curiosity might get us more than we bargained for. Curiosity is a natural response to puzzlement: “Then Moses said, ‘I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn’” (Ex 3:3). We explore and learn by a basic curiosity of why things are the way they are. But that same curiosity might also lead us into dangerous places. Scammers entice us with their thieving schemes; “too good to be true” ads capture our attention; internet images lure us to lascivious sites.
Application: Be wise; be wary; recall past occasions in which your well-meaning curiosity got you into trouble. Remember the “law of unintended consequences.” We may enter into some dangerous domain thinking we can handle it, not realizing the power of Satan and his enticements to sin. There are some things that God tells us not to explore but to flee, idolatry (1 Cor 10:14) and youthful lusts (2 Tim 2:22) among them. You have likely noticed the explosion of legalized betting and casinos popping up all over the place. This once nebulous, dark underworld is now being mainstreamed. A place like the MGM National Harbor is glitzy and glamorous, offering concerts, fine dining, bars, spas, salons, luxury retail shops, wedding venues and more. And no doubt some of the patrons of this den of idolatry and youthful lust have been Christians.
2) Sometimes we push when we should pull, and vice versa. It is relatively easy in life to get stuck; it is harder to get unstuck. Animal traps operate by this principle, and so does Satan. One of his deceptions is to hide the simple solution to our problem. We get ourselves in trouble, but instead of backing out of it we often compound the first mistake with another, and then another … This is how hikers die. They get off the beaten path, and instead of stopping and backtracking they keep going in the wrong direction thinking they will eventually find their own way out.
Application: The solution to our problem is often hidden behind ego or shame or the desire to prove ourselves right. When we get off-track – and we all do at times – we need to stop, analyze where we went wrong and then correct it. We may have to go backward before we can go forward, but this is often odious. Pharaoh kept obstinately digging his hole deeper and deeper, refusing to correct his course and destroying his nation in the process. King Saul made the same mistake. Rather than repenting and seeking forgiveness and counsel, he hardened himself against David and lost his sanity to intense jealousy. God’s solution to our sin is confession and repentance: take responsibility for it, confess it, repent of it, make whatever correction or restitution might be necessary and move on. Conversely, don’t deny it, make excuses, blame others and withdraw thus compounding the mistake. Scripture always affords us the simplest, clearest and most effective solutions to our (usually) self-made problems.
3) We need God to free us and comfort us when we are stuck. To a little boy the operation of a phone booth was mysterious and counterintuitive; to my father, it was a common contraption that required little thought. We sometimes see our children flummoxed by things they are unfamiliar with. We understand the solution or the functionality, but they don’t. So we teach them how things work, how to “get out of the phone booth.”
Application: We need God to free us from sin. This He has done in sacrificing His Son as atonement for it (Heb 9:11-12; 10:8-10; etc.). We need God to release us from selfishness and distraction with our own interests and teach us about satisfaction in serving others (Ph 2:2-7). We need God to free us from our ignorant, inadequate and juvenile way of looking at the world (Ph 1:9-10; 1 Cor 2:10-16; 2 Tim 3:16-17). We need God to help us see ourselves as we really are, not through the prism of self-justification (Heb 4:12; Jas 1:23-25). We need God to educate us about things that we cannot know by our physical senses: angels and demons; the resurrection; life beyond death; judgment; providence; forgiveness; God’s love for and grace and mercy toward us, etc. God is compassionate and wants to free us from our panic and doom.
There’s a lot to learn in that little phone booth.