My friend, Tim from Connecticut, called yesterday. After the hello’s, he said, “What are you doing?”
I sounded incredulous: “I’m working for God. He’s depending on me, you know?”
“Why, of course, of course.” he replied.
The joking ended and we went on with the reason for his call. I dismissed the banter—except I didn’t fully, so here I am to write about what exactly it is that I do for God.
I wrote last week about what God did for us. It only seems right that I provide the other side of the equation, the relational equation.
Of course, last week I wrote about Jesus Christ’s Incarnation, God’s justification of life for us, and our salvation. I wrote about how all of that transpired before we were ever created—actually, before anything was created. Since God knows everything and has no time dimension, He had to resolve our need for reconciliation with Him before we ever fell out of favor.
This is an amazing concept, but it goes beyond concept. It is true.
God’s mercy and grace actually came down to us and for us in Christ, i.e. God incarnate. Given these parameters, any notion that we contribute to this rescue mission is misguided.
I don’t struggle with this plan. Of course, it is remarkable, but I have zero belief that I am a contributor. It’s after I’m a beneficiary that I stub my toe. If you pin me down on my theology, I get the correct answer. That’s the joke with Tim on the phone. God is not depending on me. He’s not that poor, and I’m clear about this—unless I’m under the house.
If this article is the first you’ve heard about my house woes, you might want to pause this reading and read what I mean by “under the house.” It won’t take but a moment. The rest of us will wait here until you return.
Under the house became my business.
It’s really dark under the house. In fact, there have been several workmen who’ve shown up, looked under the house, and walked away. Early on, when the water problem started, a plumber showed up—sent by the insurance company—to fix our leak. He looked under the house—you access under the house from a scupper hole in the closet—shown his light into the hole, and said, “I can’t go down there.”
I said, “Why not?”
He says, “Because there’s water down there.”
I said, “You’re a plumber!”
He shook his head, backed away, and headed for his truck.
I was not amused. “No, I won’t sign your clipboard.” I encouraged him out to his truck. “No, I’m not paying your trip charge.”
If you live in the house, under the house is not where you go. You are only under the house if it’s your business—and under the house became my business.
I had not been under my house. (That’s a long story.) But even I have enough horse sense to know that what the insurance guy was saying was horse you-know-what. It was clear, real quick: I needed to go under the house and get acquainted.
I’m not one to leap. All those sermons I’ve heard about Peter and how impetuous he was never moved me. You remember the story about Peter and the disciples fishing all night and catching nothing? Jesus suggests they throw their nets on the other side of the boat and they catch so many fish the boat is sinking.
It’s a miracle, of course. But besides the 153 fish reported, the part of the story that captures me is Peter’s reaction to the miracle.
The Bible reports Peter was fishing naked. Yes, I’m a fisherman, but I’m a fly fisherman and fly fishermen don’t fish naked. But I digress. He’s fishing naked, catches the miraculous number of fish, puts on his clothes, jumps overboard, and swims to shore to see Jesus.
At this point in the sermon, the pastor implies that all of us should follow Christ with such abandon. The organ starts playing, and the invitation is given. I am unmoved. The deal is, I would never put my clothes on and jump overboard.
I won’t leap. I will step though—and I will step no matter what might be required with stepping. Once I step, I’ll keep stepping. One foot in front of the other, as Robert Bly describes, even dragging my guts behind me.
So, under the house I went. Both literally and metaphorically. I was under the house for nearly five years, until the house was fixed, the insurance money received, and the punch list finished.
Dianne, the dog, and I were displaced, living in a hotel.
After five years, I climbed out from under the house, covered the scupper hole, replaced the items in the closet, and closed the door.
Except, my soul didn’t make the exit. It was so near ruin that it remained under the house.
I wrote earlier about my work. My work didn’t suffer while I was under the house. It almost died.
I was of the opinion that my work mattered to God. I still am, but not like I used to be. Being under the house was manageable for a while, but after a while it became impossible to do my work and be under the house as well. I didn’t have a choice.
I had to be under the house.
What I loved to do? What I felt called to do? No, all that got shelved. Then it got covered up. Then I lost track of it.
Dianne, the dog, and I were displaced, living in a hotel. A couple of days after relocating, I was sitting at the tiny table in our hotel room trying to access the Wi-Fi. Access wasn’t going to happen reliably enough or long enough for me to keep up with my work, specifically my writing work.
I tried, made some calls. Got a new access code. But it was no use.
And then, it went dark. My soul went under the house, just like my body did, except my soul stayed. I remember it like it was yesterday. I stared at my keyboard, looked inside my soul, and there were no words. It scared me. Bad.
Most of what I did was contend with the insurance company. They liked to call themselves, my good neighbor. Uh huh. It had to be done—to recoup our money, fix our house, but mainly so I could get out from under the house and reclaim my lost soul.
As you know from my previous writing, my best effort wasn’t good enough to accomplish this. When an insurance company goes to work each day dedicated to obstructionism, the likelihood is that my best efforts will be obstructed. It was ugly business.
I figure she must be an angel.
Part of what’s troubling about being under the house in the dark is that you can’t see. I never feared that I was alone in the dark. I knew from experience that God inhabits the dark, but what bothered me was that I was losing it—losing my soul, losing myself, losing what I do, what I contribute—in the dark, in the dirt, under the house.
Early in our hotel stay, I was sitting in the common area working—not working on my work, working under the house. A hotel employee named, Shakendra, came up to collect my empty glass. She said, “What’s you doin’?”
I said, “Oh, I’m catching up on my work.”
She studied me. Wagging her finger, “You can’t do that. Not here. This here’s a no-work zone. You want’s more wine?”
I smiled (thinking she was joking). “No. Thank you. I’m fine,” putting my eyes back on my phone’s feed.
She said, “You the boss?”
From under the house, I had to think about that. “Yes, ma’am. I guess I am.”
She stared at me in her way. “You married?”
She huffed. “You not the boss. You the second boss. You got a dog?”
I nodded again.
She snorted this time. “You not even the second boss. You the third boss. Sit there, Boss. I’ll get you more wine.”
Thus launched a treasured friendship. I'm teary just writing her name.
Every evening, for two months, Shakendra cared for me—and I don’t mean by clearing my dishes and bringing another glass of wine, although she did this often. She was an emissary from God to my soul that was detained under the house. With her approach, care, and tenderness it was as though she crawled under the house and held my hand in the dark.
Her presence each evening was the light I needed. Under the house, I began seeing. A few days before we checked out, Shakendra was gone. I figure she must be an angel.
There are a number of things I saw in the light under the house. One of the most important was the fresh light cast on what I do.
When I said earlier that I thought my work mattered to God, what I actually meant—what I came to realize as the light dawned—was that I believed in some recess of my soul that my work contributed to God’s work.
In all candor, I believed my written work added to the Kingdom of God.
I matter because I live. I matter because I have life.
Of course, writing that now is almost embarrassing. I’m supposed to know better—except that I didn’t. I believed God valued my contribution to His Kingdom and that this meant I mattered.
When I couldn’t figure out how to get free of the insurance company’s inanity, when days turned to weeks turned to years under the house, when I lost touch with my words, and my soul was depleted I got angry.
In truth, I was so disgusted with my inability to bring my house ordeal into submission while maintaining my life’s rhythms, that I turned somewhat self-destructive—not really to destroy myself, but to motivate myself to try harder. It was a psychological game, and it was brutal. The harder I tried, the deeper under the house I went, the more lost my soul became, and the more my work slipped through my fingers like the dirt under my house.
I was not being tender with me. I had lost track of me. I got confused about what I do. That’s when God sent Shakendra and shined light upon my poorness, under the house.
In that light, I had to redefine why I matter. I say I had to. I had to in the same way a drowning person has to grab the life ring.
I don’t matter—and neither do you—because of what I do. I don’t matter less because I’m under the house, or on top of the house, or anywhere near the house, so to speak.
I matter because I live. I matter because I have life and my life showcases the reality that before I was born God determined that there was justification for me to live.
As Paul wrote, “In Him we live and move and exist.” Here’s the takeaway: This is true whether I’m under the house or at my keyboard.
I think I knew that, but examining it under the house secured it for me. Like a racoon with a shiny stone, my soul turned this shiny solidness over and over until it was no longer shiny but was security.
Obviously, I’ve found some of my lost words. So, what are you reading? What’s underneath these black words on white paper?
Am I contributing to the Kingdom?
Yes. I believe I am, not because of what I write, but because of why I write. I don’t write to make a contribution, per se, I write because it is indicative of walking with God—and walking with God is what makes me matter. I think I knew that before all this began. What I didn’t know is that crawling with God under the house is the same as walking with Him, is the same as being at my keyboard, is the same as speaking at a conference….
God doesn’t need me—at all. But God wants me desperately--so much so that He would rather die than live without me.
Once my soul saw this light while it was under the house, the hope that was nearly extinguished began to reinvigorate. I’m still not out from under the house, per se, but there is enough light that I’m confident in writing to you about my soul’s discovery—or more accurately, it’s rediscovery.
Being under the house, in the dark, with no Wi-Fi, and no prospect of an end in sight gave my soul time to disassemble, delaminate, and then reconstruct upon life.
I’m a man of words, written words. Writing is what I do. When my reason for being went away and there were no words, no prospect for words, nor a delivery mechanism for words, I was in doubt.
And this is where the quasi-quote attributed to St. Francis comes in again. All of us are called to be witnesses of Christ. Occasionally, He will ask us to use words.
I think I’m clear on this now, but it’s only because there was light under the house.
More soon, from the light under the house.