Lessons Learned from the Happy German

October 20, 2021

By Koos Stenger

We called him the Happy German.

That’s because he was from Germany and he claimed he was always happy. It’s certainly commendable to have a positive outlook on life, and I have always been encouraged by the words of the apostle Paul, who said he had learned to be content in whatsoever state he found himself in. Yet, it seemed to me the Happy German had not quite mastered that truth, as his face often registered unhappiness more times than I wish to remember. Still, even on those days he’d maintain he was perfectly happy. He would grunt, act offended, and mumble, “There’s nothing wrong with me… I am very happy.”

Fine. No problem. It wasn’t my place to judge his level of happiness. I have not been equipped with X-ray eyes to search the deep and hidden places of man’s heart. That privilege is reserved for God alone. So, I just shrugged my shoulders and agreed with him. But the nickname was quickly born and we became friends. Sort of.

All that changed on the day the Happy German wrecked my car.

“Can I borrow your Toyota? Mine is in Germany and I urgently need to take care of business.”

Borrow my Toyota? Why not.

“Just be careful,” I told him as I handed him the keys. “The mechanic said the car is due for a tune-up.”

“No problem. I know what I am doing. After all, I am a happy driver.”

But when he returned later that day, he did not look happy at all. It was hard to discern the expression on his face. Was it shame, or was it a careless smirk? I wasn’t sure. A weak smile formed around his lips while he stammered, “I… eh… backed up into a tree.”

My heart skipped a beat. “Are you all right?”

He nodded. “I am fine. Just not the car.”

“What happened?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know. Stupid car. My foot slipped off that pedal of yours. You should look at that. Thankfully I am all right. Could have been a lot worse.”

As I stared at the car parked in front of our house, I gasped for breath. The back fender was gone and the place where our dog would usually sit and bark cheerful greetings at other drivers had been transformed into a heap of twisted metal.

“I am sorry,” he mumbled. “But I couldn’t really help it. All of a sudden, that tree was just there. But the gut news is that the car still drives.”

My blood boiled. I must confess, my thoughts at that instant were not the best sample of Christianity. It wasn’t even the fact that the car was wrecked. Obviously, that wasn’t good news, especially considering the insurance company would not pay a cent. But what got to me was his indifferent, happy-go-lucky attitude and that unrepentant smirk on his face when he said: “Will you forgive me? I won’t do it again. Sorry.” He smacked his lips, shifted his position to his other leg and added, “I would pay for it if I could… but you know my finances… I am not doing too well right now.”

And that was it.

To make a long story short, I did forgive him. Not right away, but eventually, after some time. I did have to battle some bitterness, but in the end I let him off the hook. I don’t think it helped him much, as his attitude did not seem to change, but I gathered an important lesson from the whole ordeal as it dawned on me what repentance really means.

Repentance is not just saying you’re sorry, but it’s a heartfelt change that is based on a realization of the horrible truth about some wrong that has been committed. The thought that hit me was that the same attitude of indifferent carelessness with which the Happy German asked for forgiveness was in fact the same way I would at times approach the Lord. How does the Lord feel when I approach Him with less than anything but utter respect, sincere submission, and genuine repentance for not having stayed close to His commandments? Do I truly hate sin, and do I really fear the Lord in the way I should? If not, the Lord, who is always quick to forgive, might for a moment feel like clobbering me for my insincerity, as I wanted to do with the Happy German. It’s a good lesson, and one I can truly thank the Happy German for, although I am not sure he realizes it.

“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”—Isaiah 57:15

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