The $400 Kenmore Inteli-Clean vacuum cleaner I bought last year as part of a crusade on dog hair and allergens is on the fritz. Again. When I turn it on, it squeaks, moans, whirs, shakes and does nothing. If Jesus were here in the flesh, I would ask him to exorcise it. Since he is not, this will be the second time in just a few months I will be trekking to the Sears appliance center for a free repair, thanks to my two-year, extended “master warranty.”
I called the store today in hopes that I might avoid the long schlep. They referred me to a 1-800 number for folks like me whose occasional trips to the repair center are frequent enough to spark questions about whether a refund would be better. If not a refund, then at least an exchange or store credit.
When I tried the 1-800 number, a Sears customer service representative with a kind, sympathetic voice diagnosed my situation: ”we call what you have a lemon,” she said. As if she were initiating me into an insider’s language for broken appliances. As if I could not have told her that.
She went on to explain the benefits of my master warranty: in order to qualify for a refund or credit, my vacuum cleaner would have to be fixed and then break down and be fixed one more time, all within one year’s time, before my warranty would expire. ”So, what you’re telling me is that I paid for a master warranty that really won’t help with my lemon,” I asked. ”I paid a lot of money for something that doesn’t really help with my problem.”
“Um, well, yes. But you can call the store that fixed it for you and ask if you can replace it. It is up to their discretion.”
“So, they can tell me that they won’t replace it then- if that is their prerogative?”
“Yes.” And then, “I will transfer you over to them, but just in case here is their number.”
The same number that I started with. The number that I had called in the first place. Where a less kind-sounding, more officious woman had referred me to the 1-800 number.
“I just called them and they referred me to you,” I explained to the kind-sounding customer service representative.
Apologetically, “I’m sorry you’ve had this run-around. I will call them and explain your situation when I transfer you over.”
She called. I waited. Then another woman answered. ”So I take it you would like your vacuum cleaner repaired but are wondering if your warranty will cover it,” she stated.
“Well, actually, no,” I said. And then proceeded to give the explanation that I had hoped the kind-sounding customer service representative had already provided (when in fact she had not).
Thirty minutes after I had first dialed Sears I was told that I would have to bring my vacuum cleaner in on a day when the store manager- apparently the only one in the store with any authority to act outside of warranty stipulations- could either bless me with a refund, credit or exchange, or tell me the same thing. That my warranty requires three breakdowns and repairs before any such blessing might materialize.
When it comes to our brokenness, we can sometimes treat it as if it were under divine, limited warranty. That if God is going to repair our brokenness, God will only do it at our expense. Or will only do it a certain number of times within a certain period of time and then we’re on our own. Or, that it is up to us and our initiative to make things better, and soon- before the warranty expires, or before God’s good graces run dry. Other times we think we need to cajole or persuade God, like the store manager, into getting something back for the money we put in. We think we deserve at least something in return for our inconvenience. And we often think, if we are honest, that what we get ultimately depends on us. Our efforts. Our strength. Our weakness even.
Thank goodness that the grace of God doesn’t operate this way! The Good News, in spite of ourselves, is that God loves us and desires to be in relationship with us, brokenness and all. And God finds us before we ever have to go looking for God. We don’t have to do phone acrobatics or schlep to some heavenly appliance store dragging all of our stuff with us.
God is right here. In front of us. We have a direct line. And God is offering a free, no-strings-attached, lifetime warranty on all of our broken parts. This isn’t just any “master warranty.” You might call it the Master’s warranty.
By the way, the other day I found a vacuum cleaner that someone in the neighborhood was throwing out; since ours wasn’t working, I took it home and gave it a spin. It worked just fine.