Master Craft: Building Walls

Intention #4: Break Down the Walls

When it comes to building walls, I am a master.  But don’t hand me a nail gun and a two-by-four.  That’s not my sort of wall. No, I am an expert at building invisible walls.

About a decade ago, I built a rebar-reinforced concrete wall between a Children’s Pastor and myself.  I had been tasked with aligning the Vacation Bible School curriculum our church had purchased with the church’s philosophy of ministry and theology.  In my recent-seminary-grad-zeal, I may have gone a bit overboard in my changes and found myself drowning in the amount of work and responsibility I had assumed.

The night before VBS started, I discovered a tremendous amount of work had gone undone because I had assumed a certain team had responsibility for it.  I had no idea that another team existed for that task.  I was furious that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I blamed the Children’s Pastor for poor leadership and lack of communication.

And out of my frustration, I built a wall between the two of us.  I didn’t want to work with her ever again.  I wasn’t eager to learn about my missteps in handling the project.  I didn’t want to hear about my failures and opportunities for growth.  Instead, I labeled her as a problem and threat and constructed a wall to keep her out.

Wall Builder

I carefully craft my invisible walls to minimize injury and maximize self-preservation.  Who wants to go through the pain of conflict resolution?  Who wants to go through the stress of poor project planning and execution again?  Not me!

Unfortunately, I tend to build my walls on the shoddy foundations of fear and frustration.  And these walls, instead of keeping me safe, actually begin to wear me down because I have never dealt with the underlying problems–whether they be my problems or our problems.

Lately, I have been studying the Sermon on the Mount.  I’ve noticed a glaring omission.  Jesus forgot to say, “Build walls between one another so that you can live a peaceful life.”

The human race in general, and Christians, in particular, can be quite skilled at creating walls between themselves and others.

I disagree with you.  WALL. 
I don’t like your kind of people.  WALL. 
You annoy me.  WALL. 
You betrayed my trust.  WALL.

Wall Breaker

This year, I intend to be a wall breaker.  Here are three steps I’m taking to break down walls:

1.  Notice the Walls – I can build invisible walls so quickly that sometimes I fail to notice them.  Noticing the walls I’ve built requires reflection on my relationships.  Is something keeping from giving my whole self to someone and serving them?  If so, perhaps I’ve built a wall.

2.  Chisel Away – Breaking down walls can be labor intensive, especially when they’re made of rebar-reinforced concrete as opposed to two-by-fours and drywall.  First, I recall that the person on the other side of my wall bears God’s image and can show me more of who God is.  Then, I chisel away by inviting the other person to share their story, listening well, and doing tangible acts of kindness.

3.  Stop Building – I need to develop a habit of laying down my hammer.  Instead of being an instant wall-builder, I need to choose first to give others the benefit of the doubt.  I need to choose first to show empathy and love.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus highlights the importance of being peacemakers and reconcilers.  He even calls us to love our enemies.  Our invisible walls have no place in the Kingdom of God.

A Tool to Use or a Gift to Steward?

Intention #3: Write Often

Discipline.  I’m not a fan.  And yet discipline is a crucial aspect of my third intention: write often.

I doubt anyone would describe me as a disciplined person.

For the twelve years I studied piano, I never practiced on a consistent schedule.  Scales?  Pass. Instead, I crammed the few days before a recital or competition with hours of ruthless practice.

I’ve never really had a “daily quiet time.”  During my freshman year of college, my routine looked like this: leave Spanish class, buy a Coke and a muffin, head back to my dorm room, listen to an Elizabeth Elliot message, read the Bible for seven minutes, journaled for seven minutes, and pray for seven minutes.  But when my schedule changed, so did my quiet time rhythms.

Discipline Brings Freedom
Older and wiser, I now know that discipline can bring freedom.  The jazz pianist who practiced the scales, the cadences, and the rhythms can improvise with ease.  The person who read the Bible and prayed consistently knows God deeper and reflects his character effortlessly.

Discipline begins at a young age.  Our parents and caretakers discipline us to train our character.  Our teachers discipline us to train our hands to write and our brains to spell and add.

In many ways, discipline makes some practices and habits second-nature so that we have freedom for other endeavors—freedom to turn words into poems, numbers into lunar orbits, and notes into smooth sax solos. In other words, discipline pays off in the long-run.

I write often because I hope that the discipline will pay off.  Perhaps the Perhaps it will pay off in a book deal, or a life changed by something I write.  Perhaps the payoff will be smaller—better word choice, stronger verbs, or less clutter.

Discipline is Stewardship
Why writing though?  Why not concentrate my efforts on being disciplined at something else?  Why not running or playing the guitar or cooking the perfect white sauce?  I chose writing because I felt called to write more.

I didn’t discover this calling at the end of 2017; rather it had been bubbling up to the surface every now-and-then for years.  Don’t get me wrong.  I had been writing.  Writing had been part of my curriculum development, consulting, and teaching work, but I approached writing as a tool to use rather than a gift to steward.

Thinking about writing as a gift to steward means I need to invest in it—I need to commit time, energy, and resources to develop my writing.  Here are a few of the investments I’ve made already in 2018:

  • Started reading and applying concepts from On Writing Well
  • Attended a writing conference
  • Put my writing “out there” on my blog and in other publications
  • Practiced storytelling through #StoryTweeting
  • Bought new software, apps, and tech tools to increase my productivity

We invest because we hope for a return.  Again, we’re back to the idea that discipline can pay off. But when?

Honestly, I have not seen much payoff yet.  It’s only May.  I bet, however, that the payoff will come.  When I write often, I relentlessly push the flywheel, hoping for a breakthrough.

Discipline Leads to Development
When I think about giftedness, I think about all of the inventories and lists created to help us identify our gifts.  Few, however, direct us in ways to develop our gifts.  (StrengthsFinder 2.0 is one exception.)  Our gifts need nurture and care so that they can grow.  We need to learn how to use them well so that God can use our gifts for the benefit of others.

What are some of your gifts?  What have others affirmed in you?  When have they noticed aptitude and potential?  Do you treat those gifts more like a tool to use than a gift to steward? What might happen if you applied a little bit of discipline and development to that area of giftedness?    

Following Directions

I love maps.  As a child, I would sprawl out on my our scratchy oriental rug and study our atlases and globe.  With my finger, I would trace interstate and highway routes through cities and small towns, from Atlantic to Pacific and Gulf Coast to Canada.

I remember when Mapquest replaced map-reading from getting from one place to another.  When my friend and I drove from Nashville to Wilmore, Kentucky to visit Asbury Seminary, we used printed turn-by-turn directions.  Now, I use Google Maps.

Maps, Mapquest, Google Maps—each of these navigation devices helps us get to our destination, and each generation of navigation technology offers us more specifics about our journey. I began using the approximate distance between two points (scale and ruler, anyone?) and multiplying it by our ideal speed to estimate the general time of arrival.  Now, my GPS app does the math for me, adjusts for traffic, and recalculates my arrival time to the minute after every stop for Starbucks or Chick-fil-A.

But using each of these tools requires some specificity, some clarity on my part about my destination.  Google Maps cannot give me directions to Eastern Kansas, so I enter a more specific location: Overland Park, KS.   Even then, Google Maps assumes I want somewhere around 83rd and Metcalf when I intend to go to 135th and Nall.  I have a specific destination in mind.

When it comes to my calling, I seldom have that sort of clarity about the destination.  As a result, I can flounder when I do not know which way to go, what step to take.  I feel akin to Abraham in that regard.  God told him, “Go to the place I will show you” (Gen 12:1).  In other words, “Pack up and go.  I will let you know when you have arrived.”  The fact that Abraham obeyed the LORD and went astounds me.  I would have needed a little more direction.

Then, a few months ago, I discovered that Abraham did have a little direction.  At the end of Genesis 11, we read this:

Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan.  But when they came to Harran, they settled there. (Genesis 11:31)    

Abram and his extended family had already been aimed at Canaan.  They intended to go there, but they settled in Harran.  When I read this, it made sense to me that Abraham would naturally continue heading toward Canaan.  That destination had already been plugged into his internal GPS.

He probably did not have any sort of technology to tell him precisely how to get there and whether or not there would be an oasis or lame camel over the next dune.  However, with whatever means he had available, he intended on getting to Canaan.  Whether or not he had some foreknowledge that Canaan was the Promised Land, the Bible does not tell us.  Even with no clarity about his final destination, Abraham continued his family’s journey to their original intended destination.      

For me, clarity about my calling has been rather elusive.  All I can discern is Eastern Kansas when I crave to know cross streets.  But I have enough direction to get going.  I have enough to step out and move forward in the direction I sense Him to be leading, even when I do not have all of my questions answered.  This is the essence of faith.

The intentions I set for 2018 aim at the sense of calling I have.  They aim at a certain type of life I feel called to live—a life I believe to align with the values and priorities of the Kingdom of God.  They aim at a type of contribution I sense God wants me to make with my skills, training, and knowledge.

My four intentions: FLYWHEEL, INQUIRE, WRITE, and WALL keep me headed in a certain direction.  And the Post-It note on which they are written reminds me, even now, that the intentions cannot stay on paper or in my head.  I have to get moving.

This post is the second in a series on intentions.  You can read the first post here.