We were a bit hesitant to tear out walls.
Dusty, everyone said.
Old Plaster, the contractor husband said.
What will we do with it? I said.
I was a bit hesitant to write on this topic of walls. So metaphorical, walls are — especially tearing them down…. I could wax poetic, except I’m an unexceptional poet. I could philosophize, except I’m an unexceptional philosopher. I could spout theology, except I’m an unexceptional theologian. And yes, I’m an unexceptional photographer too — it’s particularly difficult to take pictures of walls that aren’t there any longer.
The Oxford American Dictionary tells me that the word wall is from the Old English word weall — a vertical structure, usually solid, that defines and sometimes protects an area. In fact, if walls divide and separate us, we could discuss the new trend in houses that opens up kitchens to the living areas of a house. So do we want an undefined and unprotected kitchen? Yes.
I have read Jane Powell’s “Bungalow Books” extensively. Her humor, her authenticity, and her strict ideas against “remodeling” feed my soul. Don’t do damage to your old house, she says. If you keep to its period, no one will hate you in fifty years. No one will have to rip out the trendy 4×8 sheets of fake paneling that you have carefully installed in the family room. I especially liked Bungalow Kitchens, and yes, I read Bungalow Bathrooms too. I renewed them both until the library wouldn’t let me keep them any longer. Powell says, Never under any circumstances should one listen to an architect who suggests changing your bungalow to an “open plan.” (Not a direct quote, but pretty close…) Two points are especially important here:
1. We don’t, technically, live in a bungalow Although it was built around the time of many bungalows, and it might fit the definition, as in being one story and a modest, affordable dwelling, the cottage has no architectural presence. There’s nothing that makes it stand out except the clipped gables. There’s no beautiful woodwork; no lovely front porch with the classic bungalow pillars; no charming little windows, stained glass or otherwise… My father put it succinctly — that house growed like Topsy…(from Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe). The closest the cottage gets to architectural charm is a couple of nice built-in cupboards and a big brick chimney, all of which we are taking great pains to keep.
2. We didn’t hire an architect No, we didn’t. My sister and her husband were the closest to architects that we could find for free (she’s an interior designer and he used to do the windows for Gimbels in downtown Pittsburgh) and they said, “Oh, take out this wall. Yes, take it down.”
The most important thing to do before tearing down a wall is to determine if the wall is structurally necessary. The contractor husband is an expert on whether walls are structurally necessary, so he climbed up into the attic above our bathroom, dodged cobwebs and spiders, and checked out which way the joists and rafters run. It turned out to be safe to tear down the walls. Full speed ahead: open up the room; let in the light; make the rooms bigger; invite everyone into the kitchen.
Walls are human made things. The only thing that I can think of, in the natural world — in God’s creation — that might be a prototype for a wall would be mountain cliffs. Walls were made to define, to protect, to separate, to divide…. (That’s not to say I’m totally against walls — walls around a bathroom are a fine idea) but mostly God wants the walls around us gone.
It’s scary taking down walls. What if you take a support wall down and the structure starts to crumble? What if you expose what’s underneath? Let me tell you, it’s guaranteed to be messy and ugly; it’s also guaranteed to be hard work; and there will be surprises. So why even try?
Because when that wall is down, it opens up the room that is your heart; it makes the room bigger; it lets light into your life; it allows for true relationships, both with people and with God. We all have walls around us — some are wallpapered nicely to conceal the cracks, nicks, and holes that would show if it weren’t for that expensive wallpaper we bought to cover them. And it took years to get that wallpaper fixed on right, didn’t it? We’ve all got our own cracks, chips, and gaping holes that we keep covered at most any cost. But God knows what they are. If we allow it, he will work on us until we admit that yes, the damaged wall needs to be taken down. Exposing what is underneath is scary — it’s been covered for so long, we barely know what is there; but once it is gone, the light — God’s light — exposes it for what it was: sin.
This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
This might bear repeating: If we walk in the light, if we follow after Christ, we will have true fellowship with one another. If we tear down the walls that keep us bound in our own prisons, if we tear down the walls that keep us in darkness and the light flows in, we have true fellowship — with one another and with God.
Jesus Himself said He was the light of the world. “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)
Why would we not tear down the walls that confine us and follow the light of the world?
For further study, read about living as Children of Light in Ephesians 4:17-32 and Ephesians 5:8-14.
Questions for thought:
- What walls do you have around you that prevent true fellowship with other people? Shyness, Pride, Arrogance, Selfishness, Busy-ness, Lack of self-confidence, Fear, Money, Not enough money…It also occurs to me that (in the light of the first essay) these are all idols that we allow to be more important than God.
- The quarantine and lock-downs we are facing with Covid-19 have now lasted longer than a year. It seems to me that the lack of gathering with our brothers and sisters in Christ has allowed us to hide behind our walls–and this in the name of public good. The introvert in me is finding it more and more difficult to go out into the world; frankly it has allowed me to hide behind my walls. Do you think this will damage Christ’s Church? Our witness to others? Our love toward each other?
- We just added a giant south-facing window to the final room we are re-doing, and now that the light streams in, I can clearly see the dirt in the room. I love this metaphor for the light of Christ exposing our sins. Any thoughts?
- When we walk as Children of Light, we set an example to those unbelievers who still walk in darkness. The struggle is how much of the world can we let in, and still be living as the light-filled children God wants us to be…
- Write a prayer to God asking Him to help you tear down your walls and let in His light.
Jane Powell’s books include Bungalow Kitchens; Bungalow Bathrooms; Bungalow: The Ultimate Arts & Crafts Home; Bungalow Details: Exterior; and Bungalow Details: Interior all published by Gibb Smith Publishers.