Last week, my closet collapsed.
For fourteen years, the shelving worked perfectly. It did its job like a real trooper. Then, without any warning, it just failed. The overloaded bolts finally gave way and ripped out of the wall, dumping the shelving and all of its contents onto the floor. My semi-organized constant now lay in a crumpled heap. In a moment, my closet went from constancy to chaos.
To make matters worse, I am not much of a handyman. Beyond a basic screwdriver, I don’t know much about building / fixing / repairing / installing things. So, after moving the mountain of debris out of the closet and into my office, I faced the added stress of not knowing exactly what to do next. A true handyman would know. But in my case, even if I can make a lucky guess about what might need to be done, I still have no idea how to actually do it.
This situation feels like a metaphor for my life. At times it feels like I am standing in a mountain of debris, in the form of change and disruption.
First, February is the anniversary of the day when my postgraduate dream died. Pain and loss sap me whenever I remember walking away from the university and leaving England for the last time. I love England and long to return – but I still don’t know how to make sense of what happened there. True, my life is incredibly blessed in so many ways, but that whole confusing episode still feels like a huge heap of you-know-what. I wish the heavens would open with a downpour of redemption to turn it all into something meaningful, but instead of a downpour it feels more like a dribble.
Second, this year is an election year, and I feel overrun by mindless mobs speaking of “revolution” and “making America great again.” However, for most of the candidates, I have less confidence in their vision than apprehension that they might make things worse. Information races by me in blips and flashes. Change bombards me by the nanosecond. Nothing feels solid or stable. Order collapses, just like my shelving. My head feels ready to explode and disappear, like a volcanic island erupting and slipping under the sea.
This year is also the year I’ll turn 50. At an age when many people start planning ahead for retirement, I still don’t know what to be when I grow up. Writing has been a great release, but it feels like I am risking everything on an unknown. My goal for 2016 is to complete my next manuscript by the end of the year. However, I struggle endlessly with distractions of every kind—most recently, the catastrophe in my closet and the subsequent mess in my office as I try to figure out a solution.
I crave constancy – but the more I seek it, the more I find chaos.
The trouble is, nothing on this earth is constant. Despite all the secrets of the universe that we think we have unlocked with our finite minds, life can still throw us a curve ball—an accident, a betrayal or rejection, a medical diagnosis. We can’t predict it. We can’t prevent it. Try as we might to avoid or prepare for it, life simply caves in. One minute the world is normal and orderly, and the next minute everything blows up. And with the threat of the cave-in always lurking just beyond our awareness, we simply cannot cling to any certainty on earth.
My head knows that, but my heart still wants to believe otherwise.
And now, just days after “The Great Closet Collapse of 2016,” I sit in my office, trying unsuccessfully not to be distracted by the mess. But as I survey it, I do have some tips which bring perspective to both my closet and my life.
Be flexible. During this season of Lent, I have been thinking about my heart which I have allowed to harden as a defense mechanism against unwanted changes in my life. Unfortunately, a hardened heart is not flexible. Under pressure, it doesn’t bend; it breaks. Likewise, people who are not flexible have great trouble dealing with unwanted change. But change, like a tsunami, is unstoppable: the more we resist it, the more rigid and brittle we become – and the more damage we suffer when it finally breaks us. Growth comes not from having our lives in order, but from how we respond to unexpected disorder. When the collapse happens and we find ourselves buried in debris, we need to just take a breath, get our bearings, and start considering the next step.
Remember that God is the only true constant. Silly me – putting faith in a closet. We live in a universe where stars die and mountains disappear. The ground is constantly moving beneath our feet—sometimes we don’t feel it, but other times it moves with such force that it destroys whole regions. Everything in the universe is changing all the time, and we can’t stop it. So if we seek constancy in any created thing, we will be disappointed, because nothing is constant except God. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and he will never collapse under the weight of burden.
Find opportunity in the debris. For fourteen years my shelving served its purpose, and its collapse was another unwanted distraction—another problem I wish I didn’t have to solve. But after I cleared out the mess, I realized I had a choice – I could keep grieving the disaster, or take the unexpected opportunity to reorganize. For days now I’ve been staring at my blank wall, like DaVinci staring at the blank canvas that became the Mona Lisa. I’m considering the possibilities. Maybe I’ll reinstall the shelving exactly like it was. Maybe I’ll think of an even better setup. Maybe I’ll actually get rid of useless junk I forgot I had. In the same way, when life collapses we have a choice: focus on the tragedy, or find new opportunities in the rubble. When my postgraduate studies flamed out, God helped me turn that pain into a book to help others who have experienced failure. Countless others have also turned their pain into something beneficial. Opportunity is often buried beneath, and rises up from within, the brokenness of our lives.