The Day the Heating Elements Quit

Yesterday was a funny day.

Our dryer—that is, the dryer we were generously gifted 12 years ago when a family friend was upgrading their already decade-old appliances—finally decided to stop performing its primary function.

The motor still turned, the barrel still rotated, the dials still worked, but the heat was gone.

In a household of five, a dryer that doesn’t dry is something of an emergency. We generate quite a bit of laundry—without a battle plan, things were going to start looking very grim, very quickly.

Mary did a little research and found the likely culprits. Most likely the heating element. We ordered the parts—Amazon would have them on our doorstep before the sun came up.

A little later, as I left to run an unrelated errand, Mary rushed out of the house and called for me to come back inside. Our equally ancient oven, she told me about as casually as a person can when something is on fire, was on fire.

It was definitely shaping up to be one of those days.

The fire inside the oven had put itself out by the time I made it back inside, but the light show I missed had been impressive. For the second time that day, we proceeded to order a heating element for a 2002 Kenmore appliance.

* * *

My prep work for the dryer (which I thought would be as straightforward as opening up the back of the machine and locating the heating element) wound up requiring a pretty thorough disassembly of the machine. Control panel, lid, door, lint trap, barrel, belt, and a terrifyingly large quantity of lint—the guts of our dryer were piled awkwardly across the crowded laundry room and even began spreading into the kitchen.

Did I mention I don’t really know anything about dryers?

Because I don’t.

Or… didn’t.

Between Thursday night and Friday morning, I gained a lot of knowledge about the inner workings of Kenmore dryers produced in 2002, so—silver lining, I guess.

* * *

Long story short, after a lot of wrestling with things I didn’t really understand (and desperately scrubbing through YouTube videos from the unsung heroes of our age—the weird handful of people who decide to film themselves doing repair work), I finally extricated the heating element and discovered that the wire had snapped.

Twenty-two years of heating up and cooling down, expanding and shrinking, had taken its toll. It was done. All that was left was to toss it out, wire up the new one, and pray I didn’t make a stupid mistake that would burn our house down.

I remember staring at the broken heating element before I threw it away. Most of the spring-shaped line was intact—it was just one single point that couldn’t handle the stress anymore, resulting in the break.

There was a spiritual analogy there, surely.

* * *

Every other part of the machine was still doing its job—but with the heating element broken, it was all wasted effort. And fixing what sounds like such a relatively small problem—one little break in one little line—required hours of disassembly and reassembly just to expose the faulty piece.

Makes me think about burnout. When we consistently push ourselves too hard for too long—ask too much of our bodies and our minds for an extended period of time—eventually, something gives. Physically, emotionally, creatively, spiritually—some part of us snaps under the repeated and unrelenting strain of it all.

Sometimes there’s nothing we can do. Sometimes God allows us to enter a stretch of life where letting up isn’t an option—where we learn to trust Him for the things we can’t supply.

But I think a lot of times, burnout is avoidable. We can learn to pace ourselves for a marathon instead of running like it’s a sprint. We can learn not to push our bodies, our minds, or our spirits to the point where they simply give out under the demands we’re subjecting them to.

There’s hope even then, though. Repairing the dryer was a lot of work—sometimes even a lot of guesswork—but it was possible. With God’s help, we can rebuild ourselves after a burnout and still get back into the game. (Preferably at a more reasonable pace.)

* * *

The other side of the analogy is a little different. It’s a reminder of how pointless our actions can be if we lose the elements that matter.

Everything else in that dryer was firing in sync and on time. Everything was doing its part—except for one little coil buried at the bottom of the machine.

But it didn’t matter. The whole dryer was useless. It didn’t get partial credit; it couldn’t function in some reduced capacity. Unless I could find a way to add heat into the equation, we needed to think about buying another machine.

In Revelation, the Ephesian church were commended for “your toil and your patient endurance” (Revelation 2:2, ESV). Jesus praised them for “enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary” (verse 3, ESV).

And yet in spite of all that, their fundamental problem—”that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (verse 4, ESV)—was so serious that, barring a major and immediate course correction, Jesus intended to remove them from His Church (verse 5, compare Revelation 1:20).

They were a dryer, going through all the proper motions, but producing absolutely no heat. The core element that should have defined them as God’s people (John 13:35) was absent and broken. No amount of tumbling the wet laundry was going to make up for the fact that nothing was actually drying.

* * *

It doesn’t do any good to push ourselves until we break. And it doesn’t do any good to go through all the right motions while neglecting the most essential part of the equation.

But the most important lesson my dryer reminded me of is probably this:

In either situation, if we look to God for help, we can repair the problem.

(I haven’t started replacing the oven’s heating element yet, but be sure to come by next week! Maybe I’ll start a series: “Spiritual Lessons I’ve Learned From Repairing 2002 Kenmore Appliances Around My House.”)

Until next time,

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