A couple of years ago I spent the better part of a week in Spring working on a home improvement project. And by better part of the week, I mean the part that was over 80° and sunny . . . and this was Michigan in March. I put the finishing touches on the project on a Saturday when it was going to be 60° and rainy—which was more typical for the season.
But let me be clear about the project, too: it had been a project that had been staring me tauntingly in the face for the last 2-3 years. It was our deck.
For whatever reason (I’ve got lots of excuses and blame to shift), the deck that was built 7 years prior simply did not hold up. The wood no longer repelled the water and instead soaked it up like a sponge—so much so that our kids would get splinters in their feet if they didn’t wear sandals or shoes when they went out to play in the yard. And removing splinters from the tender feet of 2-5 year olds is an exercise in patience and persistence that seems to border on brutality in the eyes of the tender footed.
Okay, so you’ve got this right? The deck was awful. It had been in poor shape for far too long, but I just hadn’t bitten the bullet to repair it. I’d priced it out multiple times, but no matter how many trips I made to the home improvement store, the materials never seemed to make their way to my home and install themselves. And so it looked as though we would just endure another season of splinters.
But enough was enough. I was not man enough to spend another summer extracting splinters from the soles of my little girls’ feet. But I was man enough to rebuild a deck.
Or so I thought.
In my mind (let’s not spend too much time here), the project would entail buying the materials, cutting the boards to size and then after the obligatory task of removing the old decking I would install the new deck boards. It would be a one-man day’s-long project at best.
I can hear you chuckling already.
Yeah, it didn’t go that way at all. The old decking—rotting though it was—refused to cooperate. And like giant splinters in the soles of tender footed little girls, it took patient and exacting labor to remove the old decking before I could even begin installing the new material.
The boards had swollen with all the moisture they’d soaked in and were actually covering most of the screws. So, before I could I could go and remove all the screws in order to free up the individual deck boards, I had to go on my hands and knees and free up the screws with a pocket knife. This involved not only shaving away the wood that was covering the screws, but also digging out the dirt and debris that would otherwise cause the drill bit to strip the screw.
On one of these laborious attempts to remove the wood swollen over a screw, my knife skipped off and lodged itself in my arm. It didn’t actually penetrate that deeply, but the damage was done and now I had to leave the work to stop the bleeding. (I’m sure there’s another metaphor here.)
Alright, I’m going to spare you any more of the boring details. I think you get the picture: the job that I had expected to complete in one day had now taking two days just to remove the old decking; I was barely halfway done.
And I did finish the job within the week, but not by myself—my son helped.
We loved having a new deck, but I think that weeklong project is an apt picture for much of life. We have great intentions of starting new things and get a fresh blank page, but sometimes the greatest work is just preparing the surface through removing the old. Preparing for the new can’t happen without first removing the old.
In Ephesians 4, Paul tells us
to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
I get really excited about the idea of a new deck–of putting on the new self, but I often overlook the difficult and necessarily laborious task of removing the old. It’s akin to removing splinters before being able to run through the yard. If I skip the former, I’m not going to be able to enjoy the latter. If I don’t get rid of the old stuff, the new stuff isn’t going to function the way it’s supposed to and there will still be unnecessary pain.
It may take longer than expected, require more help, create wounds and leave scars in the process, but it is still better than merely living with the old.
And there were unexpected rewards from finishing the deck—one of which was decktime: when my wife and I would sit and enjoy a drink and some healthy conversation after our kids were in bed. But I’ll save that for another post.
This lesson can be applied in many ways: from decks to simplifying life to leaving an old neighborhood and context for a new opportunity.
And that’s just where I am: that house with it’s new deck is actually on the market to be sold right now, with someone else getting the opportunity to enjoy the fruit of my blood, sweat, and tears.
But we had to move from the old place before we saw the new opportunity open up.
And I see the truth at work in my life of following after Jesus, too: if I don’t put off the sinful habits and character, no matter how hard I work at it, new disciplines towards godliness aren’t going to be able to take root.
Do you struggle with removing the old in order to put on the new? What new things do you hope to see in your life and what slivers are you working at pulling out of tender feet to make those things a reality?