Television shows about remodeling homes, restoring old furniture, re-purposing objects for new and creative uses bring me joy and wonder! Even when I know shows’ repetitious formats – Home Town, Fixer Upper, or a show focused on outdoor living spaces – my energy level goes up with the “before and after” images. I am especially intrigued by the process of the reconstruction and the story that accompanies the changes. How persons can envision the beauty to be released from the old, the abandoned, the neglected – it’s a repeated delight to see the finished product every time!
Just imagine a cabin, falling down, leaky roof, inhabited by birds and other creatures of the woods. An hour later, that which was rotting, overcome with mold and mildew, smelly, unhealthy and dangerous is transformed into a place I would love to call home!
When the structures are strengthened, and new construction builds upon a solid foundation – Wow! I am inspired! I gaze longingly at the majesty of old fireplaces brought to life, or wooden floors– scrubbed, sanded, re-finished, and returned to original luster or better – gorgeous! Even when old stains and scars in the wood are left, a deep beauty is expressed through those marks and dings. They are reminders of the stories lived and told in that space and bring out the character of that house; a particular beauty which can’t be replicated anywhere else.
In the TV shows wonderful changes appear, in 30 or 60 minutes, right before our eyes. But, of course there are weeks, even months of unseen footage, days or weeks of work halted due to storms, lack of supplies, illness of workers, or other unforeseeable obstacles. Well-planned and efficiently implemented remodeling projects take time, effort, commitment, collaboration, creativity, flexibility, adjustments, sacrifices, and a willingness to yield to the needs, priorities, and expectations of others.
... we love stories and images of transformation, beauty, reconstruction, regeneration, deep change from the inside out, and the outside in.
For several years my hunch has been millions of others enjoy those shows, perhaps all of us who watch them, for the same reason: we love stories and images of transformation, beauty, reconstruction, regeneration, deep change from the inside out, and the outside in. We need 30 minutes or an hour in which something which was broken is made more beautiful, stronger, more secure. And especially inspiring are shows where the community becomes engaged in the shared labor of caring for their neighbors with a new home, or a new addition for a person with physical challenges.
An unexpected place for contemplation emerged for me between these “not-so-reality” shows of transformed properties and the very real world of relationships, ministry and Life! Watching those shows and paying attention to layers of change in the world – pre- and mid-COVID – prompted further reflections about God’s work of making all things new.
Then, sometime in late December 2020, a prayer for 2021 began to form in my mind. I’ve typed it in “Lynne-code” (a personal shorthand) almost every day this year, at least once a day. This “method” of repeating a prayer is a kind of mantra which I pray with fingers on keyboard, so muscle memory pushes the prayer a little deeper into my psyche. The prayer is something like this: With the cross before me and behind me, I long to be made new in Christ Jesus in 2021.”
With the cross before me and behind me, I long to made new in Christ Jesus in 2021.
Praying this prayer at the beginning of a New Year seemed rather lofty and noble, I confess. And, I don’t think I really considered what might be required of me if I meant this prayer, as in: “Lynne, PRAY. IT. FOR. REAL.”
In the praying I’m learning some things about God’s mission of making all things new:
Real transformation takes time, and lots of it. And, yet change is both instantaneous and progressive in the mysteries of God. When a child is conceived, living cells form and differentiate quickly; yet it still takes time for the full life to be developed. Transformation is guided by a loving God who is in and beyond time. Additionally, there are times in which, if newness of life is to happen, a pause is required, maybe even a full stop is necessary. This may be the only way clarity can be gained about where a person or a group has come from, the location in the “now,” and where person/group is going. Sometimes becoming new means rest is needed. Sabbath is an essential part of being made new. This work can’t be rushed, and yet, we need not dawdle. The Holy Spirit is the pacesetter: moving forward, pausing, even backing up may be necessary for the fullest experience of transformation.
God is the principal actor in making all things new, and yet God invites me to participate. Transformation is not a passive experience. There is work for me to do. Sometimes the work seems to be just between me and God. I need God’s help to clear out closets stuffed with shame, unresolved grief. Some old “stuff” is just junk; I never should’ve held on to it, anyway.
There seems to be a great deal of letting go necessary in the making new of all things, including releasing expectations of what being made new is “supposed to” look like for myself, or how the community will be made new. In the letting go, the transformative process fosters a kind of “holy boldness,” stepping out with courage to take up and embrace new ways of thinking, seeing, trusting, caring, offering compassion for all living things.
...the transformative process fosters a kind of "holy boldness,' stepping out with courage to take up and embrance new ways of thinking, seeing, trusting, caring, offering compassion for all living things.
The interior work of being made new reminds me doors need new hinges for easier opening to new possibilities, as well as for securely closing to care for healthy boundaries. Windows need cleaning, inside and out, in order to more clearly see God in my neighbor, and more readily see I, too, am God’s beloved.
Another part of the invitation to participate with God is to participate with my neighbors. We are made new together. Being made new doesn’t happen in isolation. Individualism will not be sustained in the making of all things new. This new thing God is doing will not be accomplished by any individual’s might or ingenuity. Yet, God uses the unique giftedness of each one, and of all of us together in this great work.
This work of the Spirit will be more fully experienced when shared in a community, made up of a circle of persons who know one another and seek to know God more and more. Relationships in community are critical, fundamental to new life. Communal participation of God’s renewing work is requisite for the whole of creation to be revived. We nurture and support one another in shared calls to be in relationship with one another and to participate with God in the renewing work beyond our little circle.
We help one another do the demolition work of bringing down walls which separate us personally and relationally. We listen together, seeking to follow the Spirit’s leading as we challenge “old and failing” institutional structures and systems. We are made new even as we engage in confronting abuses of power, racism and all other -isms, evil and injustices which perpetuate oppression and violence. By God’s grace, through compassion with bold practices of justice and mercy, we are a part of God’s bigger, bigger, bigger vision of a new heaven and a new earth.
All of this is…well, quite frankly, it’s hard work. It just is. But we are not alone. The power for initiating, nurturing, cultivating, bringing to fruition the reality of all things made new is no one less than the ONE who brought them into being in the first place – the creating, inspiring, life-giving Spirit of God!
And here’s another great mystery: the power of the Spirit in making all things new is made real and plain in and through folks like you and me! While it’s hard, challenging work which requires our participation and pouring out of our lives – like Jesus – it is not only possible, it is 100% probable. And living into this new reality is filled with unspeakable joy! It’s the fulfillment of God’s dream for all of creation, so there will be no ultimate failure! We are moving from houses built on fear to the House of Love, as Henri Nouwen says.
With Christ before us, Christ behind us, Christ within us, Christ among us, we are being made new in 2021!
We are invited to companion one another in this good, hard, wonderful, healing, grace-filled, amazing work – right where we are – in the neighborhoods of our lives. Here is the good news: God IS making ALL things-- people, relationships, the natural world – NEW! Can you perceive it? Can you imagine the completed work? WOW! What a story-board of before and after images!