There used to be a house across the street from us that was a boarded-up eyesore, uninhabitable and condemned. After its owner passed away, her drug-dealing son and his cohorts turned what once was a nice little Cape into a crack house and a ramshackle mess. When the money wasn’t coming in, they began to dismantle the house in order to sell anything that might be of value: copper plumbing, kitchen cabinets, even the aluminum gutters! Even though they confined their destruction to their own property, it of course affected the entire neighborhood. It was heartbreaking, embarrassing, and unsafe.
Before long, the city condemned the house and kicked its inhabitants out, and then there it sat, just like that, for more than two long years. One glorious day–the day my two daughters graduated middle school–an excavator and a huge dumpster arrived on the property. We were elated, to say the least! After the graduation, we came back home and sat in front of the picture window, watching the action like TV.
It was actually fascinating to watch. I have seen buildings demolished before, but never ones that were still full of stuff. Once the bucket had smashed the roof open, the excavator began to pick out and remove all the remnants of a seemingly normal life: mattresses, shower curtains, clothing, a toilet. It took hours to get it all out of there.
After that, it took only minutes to smash the rest of the house down and scoop up the debris. Finally, all that was left was the original stone foundation, which they buried. But that left me to wonder, “how can you rebuild a new house on that old foundation?”
The answer is, you can’t.
Time for a Home Inspection
Though it’s a true story, what I’ve described above is a powerful analogy the Lord has used to call my attention to my need for healing, and teach me a way to activate it. To begin with the obvious, the house is you and me, or rather, the lives we construct for ourselves. As time passes, our houses get filled with all kinds of stuff–some treasures, some junk. Often, it’s a mess. Or then again, maybe it’s a perfectly arranged showroom. (And let’s be honest, don’t those kinds of houses make you a little nervous and uncomfortable?) But even when that’s the case, we all have closets, junk drawers, basements, or attics–places where you stuff the stuff you don’t want anyone to see. Places you just can’t bring yourself to clean up and organize. Some of us do a pretty good job maintaining our home, while others allow things to fall into disrepair. Sometimes thieves or vandals break in and wreak havoc, causing great damage. Sometimes, so much damage is done through our own neglect or at the hands of others, the only way to fix anything is to break it open and excavate.
In addition to this, from time to time, we all need to inspect our foundations. Cracks can develop and weaken everything you’ve built your life upon. Or maybe it was built wrong in the first place. That’s what I discovered for myself a couple of years ago. Don’t get me wrong–I had an authentic and active faith, and a lifetime of accurate knowledge and beliefs about God. But I also had fundamental beliefs about Him and about myself that were extremely unhealthy and just plain wrong. Of course, I was completely unaware of this until the systems I had constructed as part of my foundation crumbled–and I crumbled as a result.
Emotionally, spiritually, and physically, my life was in shambles. I came across this quote that succinctly describes where I found myself during that time:
My soul is like a house, small for you to enter, but I pray you to enlarge it. It is in ruins, but I ask you to remake it. It contains much that you will not be pleased to see: this I know and do not hide. But who is to rid it of these things? There is no one but you. –Augustine di Hippo, Confessions
“There is no one but you.” What a devastating and life-saving realization! There I was, almost literally, standing among the ruins of my life, realizing that what I thought I knew I didn’t know, and what I had actually put my faith and trust in wasn’t really God at all. It was in ‘God’ as I constructed him, ‘God of my own understanding.’ Like dust among those ruins lay all my coping mechanisms. I didn’t even know they were unhealthy until I lost them and had absolutely no idea what to do or where to go. It was an ugly scene.
Activating the Courage to Rebuild
Admittedly, my situation is a bit extreme, and maybe the enormity of it doesn’t quite apply to you, but I think we’ve all experienced destruction on some level. Maybe just part of your foundation has crumbled. Either way, at some point in our lives, most of us feel like it’s time to rebuild or repair.
But here’s the thing: many of us choose to begin rebuilding with the same pieces of rubble. You can’t just pick up and dust off your own best thinking or principles and build something that will last.
It takes courage to admit you need to rebuild, and even more courage to face the fact that you might just need to scrap most everything and start over. The thought of that can be frightening and completely overwhelming, I know that full well. There’s a lot of stuff to sift through, a lot of stuff to figure out whether or not it’s worth keeping.
But here’s the other thing: only God can really rid us of what needs to go, and only God can assure us of what we need to keep. We need to do our part, but we don’t work alone. We have a Helper.
It’s difficult to outline all the steps the Lord has taught me and consolidate them in a series of blog posts, but I have described the process thoroughly in my upcoming book. I will share more details about that as we go along. But for now, I’ll share some very basic steps to get you started. To quote Maria from the Sound of Music:
Let’s Start at the Very Beginning–A Very Good Place to Start
- If you really want to rebuild/move forward as quickly as possible, you must give the Lord your full attention. Your whole heart, soul, and mind need to be fixed on Him and on where He’s leading. That means you’re going to have to limit or completely shut out distractions. Yes, you have your family and your job–those must still remain priorities–but we all have so much other stuff that fills up our lives. For me, I went on a complete media fast for nearly two years: no television, no movies, no radio, no Internet. I read a ton of books, but only books that were ‘on-topic,’ and helping me move forward, including, of course, Scripture. Down time for me was ‘work-on-my-healing’ time. Pretty extreme, huh? It was, but I was dead serious about rebuilding. I’ve said many times that if you really want to experience radical transformation, you have to prepare yourself to get a little radical!
- Be willing to take a brutally honest look at yourself, your life, and your inner condition. Remember the 4 Chambers of the Orphan Heart? Take an inventory of your life and note how shame, fear, loneliness, and restlessness have affected you. If you have an orphan heart, the only cure is to embrace (at a foundational level) your adoption by the Father.
- Devote yourself wholeheartedly to getting to know the Father. Dive into the Scriptures and let Him speak to you through them. Read everything you can get your hands on about the Father’s love for you and resist the temptation to fight it. Journal; write out your questions, your prayers, your frustrations. Write out truths about your sonship or daughtership even if you don’t really believe them yet. Don’t move on to the next step until you have reached a significant shift in what you thought you knew or understood about Him. I refused to budge from this step without some sort of a life-changing encounter with Him, saying like Jacob, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Gen. 32:26) I did have a life-changing encounter, and I believe you will too.
- Do the same things as in #3 with Jesus, and then the Holy Spirit (in that order). Focus on the connections between the members of the Godhead and how that relates to you–it is a progression inward of transformative, radical love. It is the Father moving closer and closer to you–as close as He can get this side of Heaven.
No matter who we are and where we are in life, we can all benefit from these steps. We either build our foundations afresh this way, or we repair what neglect and sin have worn down over time. It’s a lot of work, yes, but your life will never, ever be the same. There is so much more, and we’ll get to it, but this is a beginning…a very good place to start.