I read her text message and smiled. Sometimes you tell a friend about a struggle and that friend listens, offers some advice, maybe even prays for you, and then never mentions it again.
Other friends do all that — and then call a week later to see if you’ve made any progress.
I’d told my friend about how overwhelmed I’m feeling in this season and about how my frustration stems from recognizing the necessity of saying “no” but not knowing how. She texted me several days later to ask if I’d figured out what to let go of and what to keep in my schedule. I gave her a simple, surface-level answer that also made it clear that I was still struggling. Some friends would have left it at that. But this friend pushed back one more time, asking if I’d taken action in a specific way we’d discussed.
“Have you made a list, so you can see everything you do on one piece of paper?”
I left that message unread on my phone for days. I didn’t respond. But I wasn’t ignoring her. I was simply waiting until I’d done the thing, until I’d figured something out, until I wasn’t SUCH A MESS before talking to my friend.
Rather than admit that I’d spent more than an hour staring at half a dozen pieces of paper torn from a legal pad and covered in ink as I tried to wrap my mind and a pen around all the responsibilities and opportunities I’m facing right now, I stayed silent. Instead of confessing that the longer I looked at those words the more overwhelmed I got until the prospect of making a simple to-do list (normally one of my favorite things, honestly) drove me to tears, I refused to answer.
I didn’t want her to see how undone I was. Not until I’d figured it out, cleaned it up, gotten it together. Then it would be okay to tell the story of that one time I lost my mind over a to-do list. But right then, while I was IN IT? No way. Nobody needs to see that.
Then a few weeks ago, I noticed a house in our neighborhood that was falling apart. More than a cracked driveway or peeling paint, this was major disintegration at a rapid rate. And I was super annoyed to see it.
As I drove by that first day, I literally felt my nose wrinkle and my lip curl in disgust. I assumed that the house in question was simply being neglected, although in this neighborhood, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had also been abandoned. Either way the lack of attention and care being given the home was frustrating and annoying. The last thing we need around here is another house falling apart. And okay, FINE, so my house isn’t even for sale right now and maybe our yard looks a little neglected at the moment, too. But I didn’t like looking at that house. It just looked depressing.
Over the next few days I realized that someone was actually rehabbing this house. The tearing down was intentional, and a building up was surely coming soon. Strangely enough, that wasn’t enough for this judgmental neighbor. Even thought I KNEW this house was in the process of transformation, I still felt my lip curl as I glanced toward the siding-less house with the overgrown weeds. I did think, with some curiosity, Huh. So that’s what a house looks like under siding. But my response to that thought was immediate and dismissive: GROSS.
I know myself. When the work on that house is finished, I’ll be genuinely delighted. On the day I drive by and see a brand-new, beautiful house standing where a pile of wood stood just a few weeks prior, my face will light up and I won’t be able to stop my smile as I appreciate the fruits of someone’s hard work and commitment to improving their home.
And yet, while I know I can only truly appreciate the “after” picture in comparison to the “before” shot, I really did not want to witness the in-between. And though I say that I appreciate a homeowner’s labor of love involved in rehabbing a house, I didn’t actually want to see the mess or sweat or tears involved.
Transformation — whether we’re talking about a house or a heart — is not a pretty process. True rehabilitation, true change only happens when the old, crumbling, moldy, and rusty parts are stripped away, revealing the naked truth underneath. Because it’s only when we are elbow-deep in mud and muck that we can see the strong, shining bones below on which we can build something beautiful.
It can be tempting to put too much emphasis on the “after” part of a transformation. Sure, everyone loves chanting, “Move! That! Bus!” and seeing the big reveal at the end of a home improvement show. And it is absolutely inspiring to read about someone’s triumph over adversity, the hero who (reportedly) used to be an underdog.
But when we are only willing to direct our gaze on the after pictures, we’re missing the hard-fought beauty of that behind-the-scenes battle. We’re missing out on the chance to more fully understand the sacrifice that led to the victory, to more completely appreciate the reward that only came as a result of the work. And we’re missing the whole truth about who we are and how vast the gap between “before” and “after” truly is.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
It took me a while, but I realize now that the day my neighbor’s house was at its ugliest and messiest was actually the most amazing one of its entire transformation. Because without that day, I couldn’t possibly appreciate its new siding and shutters and landscaping and front porch light. Unless I face the destruction, I can’t understand the magnitude of the recreation.
This truth is no different when it comes to the stories we tell about our lives. When I wait until I’ve “got it all together” to talk about my [past] struggles, I’m robbing God of the opportunity to shine through my ugliness and my mess. I’m leaving out the most important part of any message I’m called to share when I am too proud or too afraid to let others walk with me through a transformation.
When my house is falling apart, THAT is the time to open up and share my story. Not later. Not when I get it figured out. Not when I’ve painted and polished and perfected it all. If I waited for that day, I’d never have a story to tell, for we are all in constant change, constant sharpening and growing and transforming. So when our houses are falling apart, that is the day we should look up and meet our neighbor’s eyes. Doing this will undoubtedly help us be more patient, more gentle — with each other and with ourselves. And it will certainly reveal to us the true beauty of transformation.
Are you going through the in-between part of transformation right now?
Who can you let in to walk with you through this process?