I love to build things.
By this I mean I love getting to live in the new reality, which I've first imagined in my mind, and then constructed in my life. For example, one of my fondest memories was an afternoon I spent in focused concentration in my townhome's basement, dimly lit from one lonely incandescent bulb suspended from wood beams and water pipes infested with cobwebs above me. I was perched on a metal folding chair, painted bright yellow with marks of dings and dents, chips and rust, surrounded by cement floors, walls and the boxes, baggage, and the general clutter of an unfinished basement.
It sounds pretty dismal, and I suppose it was. But my imagination was alive. I was figuring out the floor plan for our future. Where would the walls go? Where would the doors be? What kind of space did our growing family need?
I stared and stared in complete silence. Maybe for an hour or more, I never moved. I mentally rearranged until I could accommodate the various limitations: Small windows here. Central beam here. Plumbing roughed out here. Access to backyard here.
And then, we built it.
These transformed rooms have housed some remarkable experiences as our family and friends hang out, sing, talk about life, and develop creativity. It's not about the stuff—it's about living into the space.
Sometimes I build words on pages, sometimes I build experiences for individuals on a retreat, sometimes I build teams, and sometimes I build technology to support ministry. But whatever I do (and this, of course, always involves bringing in the true experts), I love to build. Often I don't have many of the skills needed to bring something of value into the world. (I can do unskilled painting and build mail-order bookshelves!) But I love seeing mere ideas, good ideas, come into reality.
I'm guessing many of you do, as well. Perhaps this is inherently human, as we are made in the image of the master-builder, the master-creator, the one who creates ex-nihilo (out of nothing).
Maybe you like to build businesses, or tiny people's minds, or ministries, or basements. We're all busy building something. The question is how are we building.
Building it new
The wisdom of Proverbs challenges us: If we are wise, we will build our house. Man or woman, the wise one builds the metaphorical "house," or structure, that will protect and nurture life. The writer of Proverbs notices that, tragically, we ourselves often dismantle our lives. "A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands" (Proverbs 14:1). What a haunting image. Clearly, no one would literally tear down her own house. No one rips off siding, or takes a sledgehammer to windows, bricks, and doors.
What could this form of self-harm mean? The ways people destroy their own lives are numerous: chasing selfish ambitions, escaping into addictions, carelessly abandoning children or spouses, raging through life, "looking out for number one." With their own hands, foolish ones tear down their entire life. Looking back on certain seasons, I know I've done this—realizing I'd been relating to others while on autopilot, or that I'd been entirely self-focused, or enslaved to fear, anger, or bitterness. With my own hands, I had undone things of great value.
Thank God for grace. It is not only with reference to my salvation that I can say, "It's grace that's brought me safe this far, and grace will lead me home."
And the New Year is a good time to focus on grace and new beginnings—on the fact that we are not hopelessly mired in whatever our circumstances this day may be. God is always at work: "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland" (Isaiah 43:18–19). God is always doing a new thing. And we can as well.
Rather than focusing on our ways of destruction, it's best to focus on the building—not motivated by fear or guilt or shame, but by faith, hope, and love.
Build for growth
So what kind of building might we create to support our spiritual growth in this next year? Several Christian traditions refer to another helpful metaphor: a trellis-like structure that supports your intentions to grow spiritually. The trellis is known as a Rule of Life. It has a long history in the church, supporting not only the spiritual growth of individuals, but also whole communities.
Forming a personal Rule of Life would be one way to think about building something that will support your dreaming and intentions for growth at the beginning of the New Year. Some people's expression of this way of life involves particular spiritual practices or relationships that, like a trellis, would support the desired spiritual growth.
I'd like to challenge you to spend some chair time like I did in that basement years ago—a time when you look into the future and prayerfully imagine a better path, a better stewardship, a better "house."
Wouldn't it be great to spend some time in silence, weighing all the options? Looking at all the pieces of your interconnected whole, and imagining various scenarios? Look at the structure of what you have to work with: What are the natural opportunities you have to improve the flow of life? What are the natural limits? Rather than resisting our limits, as we notice and accept them, they open us to possibilities we would not have seen otherwise.
Once you can frame a realistic vision for what you'd like to build, be sure to write it down! And hold it loosely. Always, hold it loosely and open before God.
Then you can enlist the experts where necessary to live into your dream. Some of the people who help me build are my spiritual director, friends, and intercessory prayer team. Trellis-kinds of practices for me are a daily prayer of surrender, times of honest reflection and prayer in a journal where I intentionally explore what's really going on in and around me, and extended time reading Scripture since God meets me there.
Be wise. Build well.
Mindy Caliguire is the founder of Soul Care, a spiritual formation ministry that exists to increase "soul health" in the body of Christ. Her newest book, STIR: Spiritual Transformation in Relationships (causeastir.us), was released in September of 2013. Find her on Twitter @MindyCaliguire.