For the past week, I have been having the same conversation each morning with a spider on my front porch. Like a parent to a teenager with a messy room, my reiterated words don’t seem to be making much of a difference. But I’m not asking my eight-legged friend to clean her room; I’m asking her to move it.
Every morning on my way to the car I walk through a nearly invisible strand of her web. The problem (besides having to brush the spider web off of myself) is that it is a vital piece of her web. It is the strand of webbing that serves as an anchor for her well-crafted house. On the days that I remember to look for it, I manage to duck under it before hurrying through the walkway. But though this solves my sticky situation, it does not solve hers. For if I haven’t caused her residence to collapse by walking through it, I have demolished her dwelling by driving away with its support beam. She has anchored her brilliant masterwork to the car am I about to remove from the driveway.
I have tried to be patient. I feel really bad as I drive away knowing that I have entirely destroyed her night’s work before I have even taken a sip of my morning coffee. I have reminded her that anchoring her web to an object that moves is futile (and no doubt incredibly frustrating to the architect). Yet so it goes each day. I drive away, and she finds herself needing to rebuild once again.
When Jesus spoke of well-built houses, it is interesting that he made it a point to point out the obvious. Build a house on shifting sands and it, too, will shift until it is completely destroyed. The illustration is as clear as it is true; a house is only as good as its foundation.
You would think that the poor, persistent spider on my front porch would have learned her lesson by now. But in fact she has only slightly altered her house plans each time—attaching her web to the mirror on my car or the windshield wiper instead of the driver’s door. I can only hope one day she will learn. But then, Jesus’s obvious words confront me, and I find myself wondering: Have I learned?
When I build my life around pursuits that suddenly shift, do I pick up and redraw the plans, taking into account all that shifted? Or do I simply pick myself up, cut my losses, and start once again? When my longing for a beautiful house gives me a mortgage I can’t afford, when my hope for the next best thing is ever being replaced by the next best thing, when I have built my life upon the satisfaction of a successful career or great kids or a solid marriage and suddenly life shifts with blow of uncertainty, what have I learned?
It is a lesson easier illustrated than understood. For more often it seems I am like the spider, intent on making my dream house work, willing to alter my plans only slightly, concerning myself with the busywork of building. It is easy to be so determined in the life we are constructing that a shifting foundation is viewed merely as a temporary set back, when in fact we are building our lives upon that which is temporary—health, careers, cars in the driveway.
Thankfully, the God described by Christianity is not only more patient than I have been with my spider, but also more compelling than I have been in encouraging those God longs to see in the security of a well-built home. With long-suffering love for us, God picks us up when our dream houses have crumbled and shows us that we were meant to dream of unshakable fortresses. Christ stands at ground zero and gives us the grace and the strength to rebuild.
We are building well, he says, when we hear his words and put them into practice. For to build on the enduring words of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit is to build lives that model their Creator, trusting that God is the holder of the best plans for the house. God’s words are like God’s character, lighting our way, standing forever, moving us to that place of refuge. The Father “does not change like the shifting shadows,” writes James. He is, as David praised, and Hannah prayed, and saints continue to discover somewhere in the process of rebuilding, the Rock of Ages.
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