spirituality

Construction: A Tangent on Transition

In Wisconsin, we have four seasons. No, it’s not spring, summer, fall, winter. We have almost winter, winter, still winter, and construction, as Jeff Foxworthy jokes when he performs in any state with four seasons.

Milwaukee does not believe in stopping construction, rain or shine, snow or sleet. It’s like some post office workers all quit and decided to bring their work ethic over to the horrendously slow and annoying Zoo Interchange project. I can avoid the highway, but then I cannot avoid construction when I work. It’s on my route to work and then it’s even at work. My department is expanding, so sometimes I walk out of a patient room and into a construction worker or a newly placed pole. When I came back from vacation this summer, I spent the greater part of my short four-hour shift figuring out where supplies and even my patients were.

And then construction had the gall to show up on my street. I would have laughed if I didn’t want to cry or punch something, especially when jackhammers would wake me up at 6:30am after getting home at midnight from work.

So whenever I am told in some words or another, “It’ll get better,” I internally scream.  I get that better things are coming, but like construction, transition is just the worst.

Construction is the worst. I have to change my route. I run late. I have to stop. I have to slam on my breaks for those trucks that are freaking slow. I have to adjust my speed on the highway lest I be fined double for speeding. Worst of all, Google maps does not always accommodate for the change, so I occasionally have to yell at my beloved Charlotte Neverlost (my family’s name for the GPS lady).

Can’t new things just magically appear like they do in Harry Potter? No? OK, you’re right. Even the food that magically appeared Great Hall was previously cooked by the house elves. Fine, construction is necessary, but that doesn’t mean I have to necessarily like it.

I hate it. I loathe it. I cannot stand it. Literally the only time I tried to actively like construction was when I was dating a civil engineer. I still disliked it, but I bit my tongue and said only nice things, just like my mama taught me. He’d show me these complex maps of the intersection he was working on, explaining the design of each step, each change, each transition, and how it was all going to turn out when it was done. It was comforting to see that all the cones, all the turns, all the everything had a purpose.

If only Jesus would do the same for me.

Sure, fine, I’ll concede that even when my old engineering boyfriend explained those maps to me, I had no idea what he was talking about. Even if Jesus would lay it all out for me, I could not and cannot fully comprehend all that the Lord has planned for my life. Does He really have each step, each change, each transition planned for? Can He accommodate for unexpected delays and changes when I mess up? Does He really know where all this, all of this, is going!?

Yes. 

As Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount,

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? 

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? 

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

Matthew 6:25-34

Yet it’s hard not to worry!  The people planning the construction are not perfect and make mistakes. Plans get disrupted. Unexpected things happen. Projects get delayed or scraped during construction. Accidents happen. Bridges collapse. Construction fails

It’s nearly impossible not worry during a transition in life. The same things that happen in construction can take place as my life is being built. I make mistakes. My plans get disrupted. Unexpected things happen. Projects and plans I have get delayed or scraped during construction.

Does that mean something is failing? Does that mean I am failing? Does that mean God is failing?

Every time I face a transition, an unsure step, a leap of faith, any kind of hardship, the deepest, darkest, most pervading question in my restless soul is precisely that: How do I know that God isn’t failing me? 

I simply do not know. There’s no way to know without any kind of doubt. But as little as I am, as foolish as I am, as untrusting as I am, as unworthy as I am, as unbelieving as I am, as despairing as I am, as broken as I am, as limited as I am, I have to trust that the Lord is working. 

To trust that the Lord is working, we need to eat a big ol’ slice of humble pie. We cannot know everything. We can have the maps, have the plans, have the layout, and think we know it all. But we don’t know it, and we cannot control it all. God knows all and guides all. 

As Solomon wrote in Proverbs,

Many are the plans of the human heart,
but it is the decision of the LORD that endures.

Proverbs 19:21

Though our human construction will fade away and ultimately fail, that which God is building, the Kingdom of Heaven, will endure. My plans change, whether I want them to or not. His plans, His kingdom, His goodness lasts forever.

Logically, I know God will not fail. God is truth. Truth never lies. Truth tells me my heavenly Father knows what I need and will provide it.

But I don’t see this Kingdom of Heaven.

I see hardship, suffering, death. I see people and relationships being torn apart, and I don’t see the divine construction cones letting me know He’s at work. Is the Kingdom of Heaven really at hand? (Matthew 3:2)

It takes a huge deal of emotional and spiritual energy to believe God is at work, trust God will work something out, hope that something better is coming, and know I am cared for in the core of my being.

Often in times of transition, in times of struggle, in times of suffering, our emotions do not match our actions. I do not want to slow down in construction zones. I do not want to change my route. I do not want to yield for construction workers who decide to take their time when I need to be somewhere.

Despite not wanting to slow down, change my route, or otherwise yield, I know I have to. I don’t want a fine, I don’t want to drive where there’s not a road, and I definitely don’t want to kill somebody.

Transition is like being in metaphorical exile. I know what I have to do, but I don’t want to do it. I want to have all the answers, not to trust in a state of unknowing. I want to know what’s going on, not pray to discern how to act. I want to know what will happen, not hope for the future. I want to know, not trust and believe.

As St. Paul wrote to the Romans,

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God…We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Romans 8:18-19, 22-23

Do we think we’re alone in thinking construction periods are the worst? Even if no human person understands the pain of transition, the rest of God’s creation does. All of creation is groaning in labor pains. That’s a vivid description, St. Paul. I suppose during transition, while the Lord is constructing some good within my life, my heart could be described as groaning.

Oh, how the Lord understands our groans! John 14-17 is Jesus preparing His disciples for His death, Him desperately trying to prepare them for the difficulties of this world. As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gesthamene before his suffering and death, He prayed diligently for us. He prayed so hard he sweat blood (Luke 22:44). Jesus understands our groaning: he experienced them a thousand-fold while He was on earth, and He experiences them a thousand-fold as His heart aches for us to join Him in heaven.

God is beyond us. He’s beyond our understanding, our hopes, our dreams, our desires, everything. God is beyond us, even our feelings.

So often we are slaves to our wanton, labile emotions. We fall in love in mere seconds yet we separate when our feelings naturally ebb into apathy. So too in our spiritual lives, we serve the Lord faithfully when we are fired up with His love yet we walk away when our feelings naturally ebb into dryness. Are we truly free if we make every decision in our lives based on how we happen to feel in that moment?

God is beyond us, even our feelings.

As Henri Nouwen wrote,

“In prayer, God’s presence is never separated from his absence, and God’s absence is never separated from his presence. His presence is so much beyond the human experience of being together that it quite easily is perceived as absence. His absence, on the other hand is so deeply felt that it leads to a new sense of his presence.”

– Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

Whether we feel Him or not, whether we understand Him or not, whether we trust Him or not, whether we hope in Him or not, whether we love Him or not, God is there. He is there, beyond us to the highest heights and deepest depths.  Yet He is there, so near to us we cannot be lost.

Our times of construction, our times of transition are the crux, just as the crucifixion was the crux of Christ’s life. The cross was not the end, but a crucial transition.  In the same sense, our times of transitions are never the end but a crucial change for our growth.

In transition, when our lives are under construction, we are called to rise above our desires, our emotions, our tendency to want to stay where we are. Every moment of our lives we have the opportunity to love our Lord more. But unlike any other time, during construction periods we are forced to slow down, forced to change our ways, forced to  concede that we don’t know everything, and that’s good for us.

When’s the last time you really thought about your drive to work, really thought about each turn, each intersection, each street? Probably not since it was new because the habit of driving to work is so ingrained in you.

Then construction hit. All of a sudden, everything familiar was new again, and for the first time in a long time, you paid attention. Construction changes our route, changes our plans, and forces us to pay attention to what’s in front of us. All this change can change our habits, for better or for worse.

Construction has an end. My street finished construction after 2 months of jack hammering. The Zoo Interchange is slated to be finished in 2021. (2021!!) My department finished construction in January.

We’re still transitioning into the new space, new flow, and creating new habits. We’re still in a period of transition, and some days it can be very frustrating. Yet, it was always exciting when a barrier came down. We could see saw in full all that work that was being done outside our knowledge. Sure, our director showed us plans, but to see those plans fulfilled and completed was so satisfying. While we work out our currently issues, I think back to each of those transitions in the construction process. I know the difficulty will pass, and the barrier will be taken down.

Periods of dryness, periods of difficulty, periods of intense doubt, periods of suffering have an end too. As difficult as they are (difficult not being an adequate word to describe it!), they can be the catalyst that changes our spiritual lives for the better by changing our habits.

Unlike our drive to work, we are not forced to participate in the relationship God wants with us. We can abandon Him and leave behind our spiritual habits like prayer, participating in a faith community, going to church, etc. However, if we keep up with these spiritual practices, even in times of transition, periods of dryness, moments of weakness and doubt, our spiritual habits will be all the stronger precisely because we were faithful to them when they were not easy.

The cross was merely a transition, and transition is merely a cross. The cross was a horrible necessity for the resurrection of Jesus and the salvation of souls. Our transitions, our times of construction, can be horrible in their own way, yet in retrospect, we can see that they are the foundation for our beautiful present.

Despite not wanting the difficulty, we are challenged to wait in trust, wait with hope, wait with faith, wait with patience, during the transition. Transitions shake our faith because we believe the lie that the change  is going to last forever. But, He tells us, tells any of us suffering, tells any of us undergoing a change, tells any of us in literal or metaphorical exile:

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

God has plans for you. God has the master plan for any construction, any transition, any suffering happening in your life. He is so all-powerful that He can modify His plans for any hiccups, any disasters, and unexpected changes encountered along the way.  

God’s Kingdom will not fail, but we can fail. We can doubt. We can give up. We can throw away our faith.

But our spiritual life is our path home to the Father.

We are called, challenged, commissioned to put into spiritual energy into believing that greater things lie ahead than those left behind.

We are called, challenged, commissioned to put into spiritual energy into trusting the transition, the suffering, the difficulties will be worth it.

We are called, challenged, commissioned to put into spiritual energy into hoping that the Good Lord will provide both now and in the future like He’s done in the past.

God’s got the master plan with a beautiful finished product in mind, abundantly greater than you ever imagine. Are you up for the challenge of construction?

 

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