It’s still dark outside and I just dropped Kami off at Middle School. We left the house a little early so that we could stop at McDonalds for a little daddy/daughter time before she crashes into her day. I treasure those times to be able to sit across from her and poke around her heart turning over stones. I’m sort of nosey when it comes to my daughters. Kami still loves being interrogated with questions, so her tender heart welcomes these little daddy dates.
Right now, I’m sipping my Grand Rapids City Blend medium coffee at Ella’s Coffee Shop and peering out the window with sleepy anticipation. It’s still darker than my coffee outside, but the lights of passing cars and the glow of the eastern horizon are a harbinger of the twists and turns of another Fall Friday. The world is waking up and I’m watching it with sleepy seeds lodged in my tear ducts.
Heidi and I have been painting the exterior of our house recently. It’s been so fun. We are running out of good weather by the day so time is of the essence. I hope to finish up the painting today, but the most difficult parts of the house are before me. Cy Floyd brought out a boom with a bucket, so I feel like a power line electrician what with all the electronic controls and the hydraulic extensions. Last night, I painted the highest point of my house where the ridge of the roof comes together. I felt like I was on a ride at the fair as I swung out and extended as far as the lift would take me. The bucket would bounce with the wind and as I looked down at the braced base keeping me from tipping over, I felt my insides tighten with anxiety. Not the kind of anxiety that is paralyzing, but the kind that leaves an aftertaste making you hungry for more.
I also switched out three exterior tights yesterday, and not just changing the bulb, which to this point has been the extent of my electrical expedition. I actually went to Lowes, purchased three fixtures, got the tools I needed, took out the old units, and preceded to replace them with the new ones. At first they didn’t work and I shook my head in dismay not knowing how to troubleshoot the problem. But as I thought through the installation steps I had taken, one thing came to mind that nagged me. When I twisted the wires together I felt like I may not have taken enough time to ensure good connection between the house wires and the fixture wires.
I took them apart again and spent extra time making sure that I twisted them together with the plastic nut that forces them together tightly. I fasted them to the brick on either side of the garage, went inside where the light switch is and turned them on. Because of my limited background as an electrician, I pessimistically anticipated failure. Much to my alarm, the lights worked and put off a small glow just as I imagined they would. I felt a surge of fulfillment course through my veins like my blood was filled with the colored sugar of a pixie stick. I was high on accomplishment.
As I cleaned the area and swept up the broken glass from the old fixtures, it was the best feeling in the world to know that I pressed toward the growing edges of my capabilities. I basked in the joy of setting out to do something and then executing the task to completion. It even felt good to experience the struggle of misassembled parts forcing me to scratch my head and stroke my chin in puzzled bemusement until the light went on (no pun intended) and I tracked the problem to its source coming up with the solution that led to success.
I realized that ministry doesn’t provide the same feeling very often. When you’re painting you know what you did and what you have left to do. When you’re installing a light fixture, you tear out the old and put in the new, and it’s done. You get to stand back and bask in the movement from what was to what is. You have more finality. You know when you’re done.
In ministry, I will paint someone and they will either unpaint themselves in the meantime or paint over what I painted with an entirely different color. I will change a broken fixture, install a new one and when I see them again, the old one will be reinstalled and the new one will be on the ground next to it. I will plant a tree in the front yard and the next day it will uproot and plant itself in the back yard. I feel like I’m constantly repainting, reinstalling, and replanting. The job in never quite done, and just when you think it is, it’s not. The point I’m trying to make is that enough is never enough and you never enjoy a sense of completion. You never reach a destination; you’re just on this never-ending pilgrimage “toward”.
So that’s why physical labor feels so good. When you mow your lawn, it’s mowed. When you paint your house, it’s painted. When you plant your bushes, they are planted. And you can sit back and bask in the feeling of accomplishment, a job well done. And that feels so good.
Sometimes when your world is surrounded by the nebulous unquantifiable world of spiritual growth, it’s refreshing to attach to the tactile world of physical labor. You can lay your head on the pillow at night and muse: “I did this and that today and it’s done. All done.”
And then I can feel the heart of Jesus when he said, “It is finished.”