Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Since we moved to Birmingham in late July, the great bane of my existence has been our new house. New to us, that is. It’s an older house, built in 1960, and very poorly kept. Really, the first thing I should say is that we’re genuinely, unreservedly grateful to have a home we can call our own. We’ve longed for a place on earth in which to plant ourselves, and begin the patient work of settlement. It doesn’t take much reflection on the plight of countless displaced and dis-housed people in the world to realize that all of my problems pale in comparison to the dark valleys so many travel. And yet, our trials and temptations are real, and are our own.
And so our house which has undoubtedly been my greatest source of stress in a generally stressful season. The actual closing on the house was an unmitigated disaster (but makes for a rather long and dull story). When we finally got the keys, the power had been shut off for a week such that it was somewhere north of 87 degrees inside and the un-powered fridge had molded over. After a wretched night of bleach-scrubbing, we quickly learned that the previous residents had considered cleaning (of any sort) was really one of those optional things in life, and had opted to not. And so our first month in our new home was spent, not customizing and cozi-fying our space, but scraping and scrubbing and installing and painting and scrubbing again, just to begin to reverse the damage done to house over the past few decades. It’s all cost far more than I had hoped to spend, as well, depleting our savings at an unsustainable clip.
And the work is far from over, which I why I’m writing about it. House projects fill the margin of our lives, and I find I despise them, unhealthily so. I wake up on a Saturday morning set aside for house projects, and the will to even leave bed deserts me. I have all these intellectual commitments to the inherent goodness of manual skills, of building a home, of caring for a place. But when it’s actually time to get up and do the work, I balk.
It’s not that I’m afraid of work (though perhaps I am a lazy person); it’s that I lack the knowledge and skills to do the work well, and I hate to do work poorly. I didn’t grow up learning to fix things, or to build things. I hate to be out of my depth, to do things wrong, to learn by trial-and-error, to waste time (e.g. I spent two hours a couple weekends ago scraping unnecessary and ugly tint from giant window, only to break the entire window as I was almost finished).
I want to love manual labor and house-work, but I find I only really love intellectual and relational work. Which I think makes me an incomplete person—we were made by God, to some degree, for work. And that work is inherently tied to the basics of human existence—food and shelter not least. It’s tempting (if not financially feasible) to hire people to fix all the deficiencies of our home. I don’t think it’s right to offload all of those responsibilities to other laborers (though, of course, we’re in this world together).
I should also mention here that Erin has been a champion through all of this, not least though my own internal struggles. She has worked patiently & selflessly to make this ramshackle house a livable home. (Additional shoutouts to my family and Erin’s, and the Bishops, for their selfless hard work in helping us scrape and scrap the mess and slowly, slowly build something better).
I know I need a change of heart, but I’m not sure where exactly God wants me to end up in this situation. Will he teach me to love this work? Does he simply want me to die to self and pick up a saw, a paint brush? Am I supposed to realize my vocation really is to the work of ministry and I should focus all my efforts there? (Did Jonathan Edwards do house projects?) Or am I making too much of all this?
Lord Jesus, you have gone to prepare a house for us in the presence of the Father. What sort of house should I have in the meantime? Please forgive and discipline my sluggish heart. Make me to see what is good in manual labor, and not bitterly complain about the time that could be better spent. Which is, I guess, to pray that you would show me, by your Spirit, what I should really value. What is time? What does it mean to redeem the time? Quiet my restless heart, help to me to love the home, and to love still more your Kingdom. Amen.