It seemed like a simple project at the beginning. A couple of years ago, I built a nice little potting bench and set it up behind my workshop. The inspiration had come during a visit to one of the families in the church. My host was showing me around their lovely grounds and in the course of the tour, showed me his potting station. Within the same week, one of my woodworking magazines arrived in the mail with the cover article offering – guess what – a simple potting bench design. The final impetus came when, in a second hand store, I found a lovely little sink that probably originated from a travel trailer which would fit perfectly in a potting bench. So, a quick trip to the lumber yard and after an hour or two of work, I too could show off a handy little work space that every gardener would envy.
All was well until winter, and our monsoon season of rain. Everything was saturated, including bags of soil, pots of peat moss, as well as all the other gardening paraphernalia that had accumulated on the bench.
So this year, my intent was to put up a simple corrugated fibreglass roof over top of the work area. Again, a quick trip to the lumber yard to gather supplies, and with my design finalized, I re-arranged my schedule to take a day off mid-week when our balmy spring weather would be at its finest and began my simple little roofing enterprise.
Within ten minutes of prep work and I felt like I had arrived in one of the Home and Garden Television (HGTV) renovation disaster programs. If you have watched any of the following shows, Holmes on Homes, Love it or List it, DIY Disasters, you will know what I mean. Inevitably, once the contractors begin their work, a host of unforeseen problems arise – the plumbing is not to code, the electrical system is a fire hazard, the foundation is crumbling, the walls are full of carpenter ants, the ceiling is full of dry rot, and the budget for the planned-for renovations suddenly disappears in a mound of unanticipated repair work. As the bard, Robbie Burns would say: the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.
Thankfully, I did not have the mega disaster on the scale that would require a Mike Holmes to make it right. I did, however, have a whole fascia support system that had rotted out and was ready to fall off. Thankfully, little expense was required other than a day’s long effort, such that my original roofing project never got started. Such is the challenge of home renovation projects, especially on older properties – one never knows the surprises and problems which will be found or the extent of additional work that will be required.
Which is not unlike the adventure of spiritual growth, at least, as I have found out in both my own life and in my experience as a pastor. Like my house, my increasingly somewhat-aged but well-weathered soul has, I’ve found, its share of metaphorical sagging foundations, creaky floorboards, ill-placed and slouching walls. Much of it has come from sloppy life construction work years ago, or from the life-quakes of crisis and trouble. Just as a slow plumbing leak up in an unseen cavity of a wall can eventually cause a huge and costly problem of mildew and dry rot and structural weakening, so in the same way all those unaddressed sins, sorrows and wounds that we have simply plastered over and tried to ignore eventually demand our attention. And the longer we have tried to pretend they did not exist or rationalize their unimportance, the greater the collateral damage to the rest of our living.
For instance, I may have thought I could put off dealing with that nagging little issue that demanded my prayerful forgiveness of a person, and did so for years, only to find that in the process, my soul has become increasingly weary, embittered, prickly and hard. Or it may be that I tried quite successfully for months and years and a lifetime to push all the hurt and pain from some moment of great wounding to my heart into the closet of denial. But like cash socked away in a savings account, pain has an ability to accrue great amounts of compound interest the longer it is left alone, except the only dividend that increases with all the shameful, ugly, soul-crippling baggage we hide from ourselves and from God is negative. The only accrual is of more pain, deeper shame.
Indeed, that may be the reason why many people are reluctant to peel back the curtain and look within our innermost selves, and invite God to come within. We seem instinctively aware that there is a mess that needs to be dealt with, so we decide that we might be better off not to start even the simplest renovation projects on our lives, fearing it will only lead to a bigger enterprise than ever we bargained for.
Sadly, ignoring the problems doesn’t make them go away. We may put them off but in doing so they generally only worsen, deepen, and become more an even more extensive, demanding and costly reno project. Putting off the issues usually serves only to drive us to continue our well-practiced patterns of dysfunctional behaviour both in our own life situation and in our relationships. Worse, we do not get to taste freedom.
Paul told the church in Galatia that for freedom we had been set free. I love that image of slaves being unshackled, given tokens of their freedom, and led into the bright, glorious sunlight of a wondrous liberty that had been purchased for them at great price. Christ died that we might be so set free from sin and guilt, and from everything that would hinder and weigh down and seek to entrap and enslave us once again.
In John’s gospel we read that Jesus told his disciples that his life gifts to them were his peace which was unlike the world could ever give and his joy that would make their joy complete. Or to put the apostle’s words and our Saviour’s promise in the language of this analogy, Christ paid the price so that our souls could be renovated and made absolutely new, inside out, from top to bottom and overflowing with heaven’s peace, blessing and joy. The challenge is that we must invite Christ, the Master Carpenter of our hearts, to come in and have his way with us, and in every part of lives, no matter how much demolition and excavation has to be done. Like the HGTV renovation shows, the Lord may have to haul out of our lives an incredible amount of old junk and evil, along with all the dry rot in our hearts from the lies of the Enemy which we have believed or the deceits we have told ourselves. No doubt, there will be dumpsters full of pride and pain, of unforgiveness of others and unforgiveness of ourselves which needs to be pulled down and hauled out. The renovation that Christ wants to do in us and with us will be messy and dusty and hard, but not only will the grand reveal be worth it, as we are remade to be more like Christ, but it will be worth it because of the joy that will increasingly grow in us, the grace that will seize hold of us and the holy freedom that will fill us.
Robert Boyd Munger penned a little pamphlet which InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has used in its outreach programs. Entitled My Heart – Christ’s Home, the booklet paints a picture of our inviting Jesus, who has been knocking at the door of our hearts, into not just the front hall of our lives, but into every single room, in all their cluttered, dilapidated, and embarrassing mess. And room by room is transformed simply by his gracious presence.
Munger does not use the imagery of Jesus with a carpenter’s belt slung around his waist but the message is similar – only Jesus can renovate the muck and mess of our lives through his incredible grace, wisdom, tenderness and love. He alone can take us as he finds us, in whatever condition of need or degree of falling apart and make us right and holy, beautiful and strong, spotless and new. It is his good pleasure so to do.