Before I moved to a condominium this summer I hired an experienced builder to do some remodeling. As with most projects, it took longer and was more expensive than I anticipated. There were the usual surprises and a snag or two along the way that slowed progress and added to the bottom line. Unforeseen but necessary changes, unanticipated permits, and other invisible costs put me at the outer edge of my emotional and financial comfort zone.
But in the process of removing an entire bathroom and opening up a wall, we captured the light and beauty of a panoramic view, visible from every room. Then two ceilings came down for some rewiring and lighting. By the mid-point of construction - when the demolition was finally complete - the place looked like a sad, forlorn shell with fixtures dangling precariously from the ceiling frame, the walls scarred and patched. Little of the original unit was still recognizable - it was a mess. There was nothing left to do but rebuild.
And when the remodeling began in earnest slowly the rooms took on new form and shape as cabinets and floors were installed, bathrooms updated, and one more wall opened up. Sheetrock, insulation, tile, glass, fixtures – every positive step inevitably led forward until the space was again whole, filled with all the light and expectation of its own new life and mine. And although we’re still working to finish the final (final!) punch list - the small items apparent only after living in a place for a while - the remodeling project is done. The result is more than I dared to even dream.
When we grieve the death of one we love, whether we like it or not we’re compelled to remodel. In one final breath death deconstructs our lives. We’re left with what for some feels and looks like an empty, vacant shell. What do we do to re-form and re-fill the emotional space we shared with the one we love? Perhaps we tear out a wall of resentment to let in the light of forgiveness. Maybe we remove the hard floor of anger and discover the true foundation on which our life is built. Or we raise the ceiling of limitation to allow for the power and possibility of hope. For some the remodeling project is more small-scale - we repaint the walls of our soul from the dark night of the worst of our grief to a new, life-giving color of joy.
What most of us learn as we assess the size and scope of our personal remodeling project is that it will probably take longer than we think – we never know how long grief will last – and it will probably cost more than we think –it will take more effort than we imagine.
Our challenge in grief is remodeling from within. Because we’re who we are and where we are today, we're not able to create an entirely new personal structure. We can’t start over in life, so the best we can do is remodel and “start fresh” with what we have left. My beloved husband liked to say, “Start now, start where you are, start with what you have”.
What we find as we move forward with our personal remodeling project is that our mind and heart are stimulated by the creativity of our own God-given soul. As we reshape our lives we actively entertain endless possibilities for our new life, the best expression of our hope in faith. We partner with God in the work of remodeling as together we transform that which has changed our lives forever into a new personal space of spiritual peace and joy, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13 NRSV).
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Psalm 127:1 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the construct of your plan. Amen.