18. In the Midst of Noise, Trouble, and Hard Work: Finding the Calm in your Heart

Sept. 2017–Bathroom project, Take Two

We’re working on the bathroom.

A small five-word sentence. It doesn’t even have an exclamation point at the end. Although it should, so I’ll put one here instead!

In 2011, when we became official owners of this little cottage, the bathroom was the first room we intended to refinish. It’s small, we thought; yes, start small. But then we ran into a few problems, and the contractor husband decided it would be better to redo the kitchen first. So now, six years later we are finally starting on the bathroom. 

Can I just say that the cottage bathroom would definitely take first place in the Ugly Bathroom Contest. The walls have had the wallpaper peeled off (one of the first tasks I completed) and are generally three different colors of old plaster—sometimes melding into one odd shade of greenish-yellowish-pink. Vintage Italianate plaster it is not. The ceiling was painted back in the seventies with textured paint and is peeling; the sink vanity is covered with some sort of fake material that started to peel, so I ripped the plastic off and one door is brown while the rest of it is still shiny off-white vinyl. There is a seventies moulded shower stall that is moldy and simply won’t come clean, no matter how much it is scrubbed with Barkeeper’s Friend. The wood floor is partially sanded (I also own up to this–remember we were going to start with the bathroom?) and partially still covered with years of caked varnish and paint drips. It is truly the ugliest bathroom on record.

In all these years, however, we have collected most everything we need. The first pieces we bought for the house were the bathroom vanity and mirror. They’ve been against the wall in the garage bedroom covered in plastic All. This. Time. The truth is often not pretty, but there is a glass-half-full outlook. We already have: the sink, the sink faucet, the shower faucets and hardware, the vanity, the mirror, the lights, the toilet, a lovely cabinet with glass doors that was left over from the kitchen project, the tile for the shower floor, the faux marble tile for the vanity top, the boards for the ceiling, an electric wall heater, and (drum roll please…) the pull-down attic ladder–which was the initial problem that stopped this bathroom project those many years ago.

That long list above, makes the list of still-to-purchase items rather short: subway tile for the shower walls, a  shower pan, and some incidental plumbing materials. Oh, and paint. And maybe a window. We haven’t really decided about the window yet. That’s the least of our worries; we haven’t gotten to that wall yet…

But can I just be honest and say, this prolonged bathroom project has made for a lot of anxiety and needless tension? The last unnecessary comment I made was earlier this year: the contractor husband thought maybe we could invite some folks over for dinner.

We have a lovely kitchen for cooking.

We have a lovely dining room for eating.

We have a lovely porch for grilling.

We have a lovely living room for conversing.

Did I focus on any of those? No.

I said, “No one is getting invited here for dinner until the bathroom is finished.”

I mean, let’s face it: you can’t invite people for dinner and then shove them out the door right after dessert because you don’t want them to use your bathroom….

Yes, the truth is not pretty. It’s right up there with those ugly bathroom walls.

And no, I never have had peace about living in the midst of a really ugly bathroom. Oh, every morning when I take a shower, I’m grateful for the hot running water. I lived without running water for several years, so I know about praise for hot showers…. And I know that much of the world does not have clean running water and I am a spoiled, first world rich woman. Forgive me Lord.

It’s just that I really appreciate beauty, and there is such a lack of beauty in this bathroom… The only charm is in my mind’s eye because I know what we have planned. Yet we are still in the midst of noise, trouble, and hard work, and the beauty is still not there. For months I had this saying on my kitchen chalk board:

This quote seems to me to be a direct explanation of the verse in the Bible that reads: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The world expects that peace is the absence of anxiety, noise, strife; but Jesus tells His disciples plainly that even though peace is one of His gifts, it is not the way the world expects. His peace may be found in the midst of strife–through prayer. His peace may be found in the midst of anxiety—through prayer. His peace may be found in the midst of trouble—through prayer. No, it isn’t easy. But Jesus never told us it would be easy. He said, yes, in this world we would have trouble, but He is our peace, and He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

One of the most difficult trials of the Christian journey is the worry about noise, trouble, or hard work that seems to surround us like a dark cloud (or an ugly bathroom). Stripped down, it is simply a lack of trust in God’s promises. He has promised to be our peace; He has promised to be with us always; He has promised to never leave or forsake us; He has promised us eternal life with Him. Think on those promises when worry, trouble, or anxiety creeps in, and pray that calmness will prevail in your heart.

The story of Jesus sleeping during the storm while the disciples were in the boat fearing for their lives has been brought up to me three times in the past two weeks. (When the Lord grabs our awareness in this way, we’d best pay attention.) There is the obvious connection of Jesus giving the disciples peace when they have only worldly fear of the storm, but there is something else, deeper and more sublime: He chides them for their lack of faith, but really, why are they afraid? They do not yet know that they are with the Lord of all creation, the creator of the wind and the waves who only has to say hush, and all of nature obeys. In fact, when He does just that, they are awestruck. They even say, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) We do not have that excuse. We know who He is, and what He is, and where He is: He is Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Universe, God with us. He is our peace, and we have no reason to ever fear noise, trouble, or hard work.

Think on His promises and pray for that calm to prevail in your heart.

For further study, read Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; and Luke 8:22-25

Questions for further thought:

  1. What is the storm in your life right now that needs to be calmed? Put another way, where in your life is there anxiety or noise that should be replaced by the peace of Jesus?
  2. Our fears over noise, trouble, or hard work can also be from fears of our own lack of preparedness, or lack of control over details, or the unknown, or…. (add yours here). Sometimes I find myself giving my fears to Jesus every five minutes! In the words of a friend: Why do I lay my fears at the feet of Jesus, and then pick them right back up again? Do you? What makes us prefer worry to the promises of Jesus?
  3. Picture Jesus sleeping in the back of your boat. At what point do you wake Him up? What do you say to Him? What does He say to you?
  4. I remember the first time I read this story of Jesus asleep in the boat, my thought was “How can He fall asleep when the waves are crashing over Him and the boat is about to capsize?” Now when I read it I understand that faith and trust and lack of anxiety all go together like a beautiful three-stranded cord, and I long for that peace to fill me. I haven’t made it yet, but I’m further along on the journey. Where are you?

    And here is a post-script: The bathroom is still not finished in 2021, although it certainly looks a lot better. We only have the shower left to do, and here are some photos of the three walls we’ve finished.

8. Fighting the Lesser Gods: Having a Thirst for Living Water

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

December, 2013

We spent too much on a kitchen faucet two weeks ago, and I am suffering from Buyer’s Remorse. I’ve been trying to excuse it. I have been rationalizing it by telling myself that we have saved so much money on so much else for the kitchen by buying at restores, redoing old stuff, and repurposing other stuff. Hmm, the key words here are much and stuff…

I’ve been telling myself that it is a quality faucet, and it will last forever. After all, it has a ceramic cartridge; it is made of stainless steel; and it won’t rust. Hmm, the key words here are quality and forever.

It’s difficult to be rehabbing a kitchen and trying to fight that impulse of materialism. The two just don’t go together. I can get caught up in the look I want; the colors I want; the type of flooring I want. The key words here are pretty obvious…I want.

I want much quality stuff forever…

We’ve been trying to be thrifty and balanced — nothing outlandishly pricey or ostentatious. Simple even. After all, there are people living in tents in Haiti; in huts in Malawi; in tenements in this very city. (Remember those starving kids in China who would have eaten those peas I wouldn’t eat as a kid?)

Last week I was cleaning out my home library and found a yellow sticky note in my handwriting with this quote: Blessings are not safe to have until it is assured that you can serve God without them. I don’t know where it came from, but I saved it. And I found it again at a time when I needed to be reminded.

In this time of gross materialism (I’m thinking of December, but it could just as well be any time here in 21st century America) we all need to be reminded. It is not about stuff, even quality stuff, even quality stuff that lasts forever. Because as Jesus reminds us, the earthly treasures rust and get eaten by moths—yes, even stainless steel faucets. The forever treasures are what we need to want; those are what last; and those are what we need to give away, too.

God created us in His image, (Genesis 1:27) and he put eternity in our hearts. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Scripture often compares the longing we have for God to a hunger or a thirst. Since this essay was inspired by a faucet, let’s concentrate on a few water images:

  • the Psalmist says “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2);
  • Jesus tells the woman at the well that He has living water and whoever drinks it will never thirst again (John 4:1-42);
  • John writes in Revelation about the water of life flowing from the throne of God (Revelation 22:1);
  • nearly the last words of Revelation are “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17).
  • And though this last image isn’t technically about water, the adjectives remind me of a river or an ocean or a cup that runneth over: Paul prays for the Ephesians that they may “…grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)

God carefully created us to long for Him—to know His love that surpasses knowledge! There is a space in our human hearts that can only be filled by Him. And instead we fill it with stuff, work, family, lovers and mates, hobbies, eating, shopping, sports, even church—you pick one (or two or three…)

These things are not necessarily bad unless they become replacements for God — lesser gods. I don’t know about you, but I fight those lesser gods all the time. When I win, I can feel Jesus smiling on the person who struggles to be like Him and sometimes manages a shadow of His presence. When I lose, He gently reminds me how imperfect I am. And His gift of grace that covers me is the softest blanket on a cold night, a cool drink of living water in a scorching desert.

Yes, it is a beautiful faucet. We own it. I will be happy with it. I will touch it every day, and it will shine as a reminder of my imperfection. And in return, it will remind me to give graciously and joyfully to someone in need. I can’t make up for my greed; I can’t be vindicated for my materialistic sin, but every time I look at that faucet, I can remember.

It will remind me of my blessings. It will remind me that I have the ability to share those blessings. It will remind me that there are people without faucets, without clean water, without living water…and what am I going to do about it?

The simple answer is to cut down on our own materialism and give to others. The less we spend on our selves, the more we will have to give. It’s important–that giving–and is one of the marks of love for our neighbors. Think of all the good in the world that has been done by Christians setting up and donating to hospitals, educational non-profits, food organizations, shelter charities… the list goes on and on. To live simply, Richard Foster reminds us in Celebration of Discipline, brings freedom–freedom to share with others and freedom from anxiety. He writes,

“If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety…[and] freedom from anxiety is one of the inward evidences of seeking first the kingdom of God. The inward reality of simplicity involves a life of joyful unconcern for possessions.”

Did you catch that line about freedom from anxiety being one of the inward signs that we are seeking the kingdom? I think that is why that passage on worry in Matthew  (Matthew 6:19-34) strikes so many of our hearts–that the birds of the air are clothed and fed, and aren’t we as loved by God as those little birds? If he feeds them and dresses them so beautifully, why are we anxious about anything?

But the more difficult answer is that not only should I act confidently about sharing my blessings freely with those in need, but I must also go about sharing that water of life to the thirsty. The world is full of thirsty people who need Jesus, and I will be the first to admit that it isn’t easy for me to do. I would always rather help someone fix up their house, deliver a meal, or give away a box of food at the food pantry, than share the gospel story with them.

I want everyone to have the water of life to drink when they thirst. Oh, I can say, it’s not my gift: there are many others who have better words or better opportunities, but Jesus calls us all to share this living water–even as simply as the Woman at the Well did by saying, Come and See. This water of life, it’s free. And it will change your life.

Lord, help us all to say Come and See easily with freedom and enthusiasm. Let us give away the quality gift that really lasts forever…

For further reading, read John 4:1-42

Questions for thought:

  • The Woman at the Well is one of my favorite Jesus stories, perhaps because he interacts with a sinner-woman, or perhaps because there is just SO MUCH packed into these verses. But what really strikes me is that she, a Samaritan Woman, is one of the first missionaries–calling others to come and see. How unlikely! Yet how true of our amazing Savior–to use the least, the downtrodden, the sinful, to bring others to Him. Do you have a favorite part from this story?
  • In the passage above from Matthew, which verse is the most convicting to you?
  • What is the lesser god that you battle most often?
  • One of Richard Foster’s suggestions is to give away what you are attached to, just to prove it has no hold on you. Have you ever done that?
  • How could blessings get in the way of serving God?
  • If you read Five Vows for Spiritual Power by A.W. Tozer, that second point–Never own anything–almost seems so radical that we can just dismiss it out of hand. Yet Tozer makes such a good case for it; does it seem doable?
  • Luke 16:1-13 is another of Jesus’ parables on the dangers of wealth. One of my commentaries on this passage suggests: “Possessions are given to [us] by Him in trust, to be used as an expression of His concern for the needy. If one does not do this, it is clear that possessions, rather than God, are [our] Lord….The story does not condemn the rich just because they are rich. They are condemned purely because they fail to use their wealth in the service of God.”

(And can I just update this post with a Post-Script? In December of 2020, seven years after this essay was first written, we had to replace the ceramic cartridge in the hot water handle of this faucet unit. Proof of Jesus’ words that earthly treasures rust…)