For the first 11 years of my life, I shared a room with my big sister. That room to the left of the porch of our little Indiana house holds a decade of memories that blur together in a swirl of Barbie pink and Michael Jackson glove silver, and the rainbow label on the Kool & The Gang’s 45 record.
We have so many memories from that childhood bedroom, but one that stands out above all the others is how many hours my sister and I spent on the floor with our Barbies. We’d scoot all the Barbie stuff in the middle and categorize the clothes, the furniture, and the dolls themselves.
We even had a specific category for all the extras, what we affectionately labeled “the little junk,” which included things like shoes and accessories, pillows and blankets for the Barbie sofas and beds, and stuff that in a real house would be considered a tchotchke.
Summertimes were the best Barbie playing times because we could start in the morning and spend the whole day setting up the houses and the stores, the school rooms and the hideouts, not to mention discovering how all the drama would unfold in the Barbie world.
(Side note: I’ll give you one guess as to which sisters spent the most time on the houses and which one of us spent the most on interpersonal Barbie relationships.)
We didn’t have the Barbie mansion (that was for the rich kids) but it didn’t even matter. We used the bedroom floor, creatively positioning furniture to create walls and dividers in our imaginary houses.
The play would break only for meals. After fried bologna sandwiches and three flavored ice cream, we would sometimes play until bedtime only to continue in the morning. One of my great delights of childhood actually was that our mom never made us clean up our room at the end of the day.
I mean, she didn’t suffer filth, don’t get me wrong, but she did understand the hard work it took to craft an entire Barbie world on the floor of our bedroom. So we were always allowed to play, sleep, and then wake up to the pink floral world untouched in the night, ready for our imaginations in the morning.
Keeping those Barbie living room decorations intact for days on end took some commitment on our part. We had to be sure our creations left a bit of a path for walking through, had to make sure the cat didn’t come in and wreak any monstrous havoc and that the plastic China cabinet with the fourth leg missing was positioned neatly against the wall so it wouldn’t topple over.
Walking through the maze of plastic furniture without knocking anything down was a skill we perfected. We knew how to keep things intact so the play could continue. This is just one story of many to illustrate this simple fact:
I know how to keep things together. I think a lot of us do.
We see a certain reality we want to maintain and we do anything to keep it that way. We may even tiptoe through systems we suspect may be corrupt and relationships we fear aren’t as healthy as they seem.
If I can’t have actual wholeness, I’ll do what I can to maintain the illusion.
I am not a tear-it-down kind of person. But keeping things intact is not a virtue, it’s a decision. And it’s not always a good one.
The painful truth is that sometimes in order to experience wholeness, first we have to tear something down.
It sounds counterintuitive and you’d better believe it often feels that way, too, but God himself understands the necessity of being torn down to be remade. He is making all things new and that is our great hope in this one life we’ve been given. Notice though that scripture doesn’t say he’s making all new things.
He’s making all things new, taking what is and remaking it new, different and whole.
Tearing down can be dramatic and sweeping and obvious, but it can also be daily, intentional and slow. Sometimes the tearing down happens to us in a way we can’t avoid. Other times the tearing down will never ever happen unless we make a choice. The process is not easy and it’s not always beautiful.
Or is it, and I’ve just forgotten how to see?
Am I trying to move from beginner to expert denying the real work of apprenticeship, learning and messing stuff up?
Do I want to push people from offense to forgiveness, skipping over the justice and the consequences that may need to be faced?
Am I looking for blooms before the roots are ready?
I don’t have to dig too deep to find this confession. I want to move from brokenness straight to wholeness for getting the necessary work of struggle in the process of our personal and communal formation. So why all this talk of struggle? Don’t we have new life in Christ? Absolutely we do and look what it took.
Our friend Jesus mocked and condemned, broken for the sin of the whole world and me and you.
I have a friend, Stephen Roach, and I read something he said the other day that I’ll share with you. By the way, if you recognize his name, Stephen is part of a band called Songs of Water, the founder of The Breath & The Clay creative arts movement, and he’s the host of the Makers and Mystics podcast. He’s said this:
“The opposite of creativity is not destruction. The creative process requires we tear down preexisting structures before we can build or innovate. The opposite of creativity is passivity.”
When I talked about the importance of listening to our emotions in episode 98 of the podcast, I said emotions are allowed to have a seat at the table. They just aren’t allowed to sit at the head. But what I failed to explain, now that I look back, is that while emotions aren’t allowed to sit at the head, neither is any other part of me, not alone. The truth is I also don’t trust my thoughts and ideas to sit at the head all by themselves or my gut or my intuition, either.
I can’t allow any part of me to be passive when it comes to making decisions especially ones that may potentially involve confronting the way things have always been done and tearing down systems that run counter to the kingdom of God.
I want to show up fully awake to my heartbreak and fully aware of the facts.
I want to show up present and self-aware and whole, but that doesn’t happen instantly and so I’m learning to be gentle with myself even while I push myself to continue to move toward what might be uncomfortable space. This takes work done on purpose with eyes wide open and it’s the kind of work that can’t be done alone.
We need male and female, heart and head, action and contemplation.
We have been made new and we are being made new. We meet Jesus and then we walk with him and each other for the long haul. I’m learning from the prophets how the true ones don’t just tear stuff down, they have love enough for people and for the truth to stick around to see things made new.
So I’ll gently ask you as I’m asking myself, what needs to be torn down?
What false stories am I believing about people of color, about women, about men, about children?
What misconceptions do I have surrounding mental health or chronic illness?
What stereotypes do I believe about those whose faith looks different from mine? Whose families look different from mine? Whose calling looks different from mine?
What systems have I bought into that run counter to the foundation of the kingdom of God?
What false narratives do I have about God that are keeping me from believing in his goodness?
What’s one next right thing I could do today to begin to untangle lies from truth?
Let these words written by Sam Yoder be our prayer together.
“God we’ll sing how through your son you turned this loss and hurt into glory.
How, when scorned in death, you raised him up. His gains become the whole world’s story.
Son of God, in you we’ve taken up the way of love’s occupation.
Oh, the joy to share in your reward, the stunning turn of new creation.
- Let all things rise and bless your name. All things made right and new again.
- Oh Lord, our God, your goodness is free and boundless is reaching endless through it all.”
May it be so in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
This post is adapted from Episode 99 of The Next Right Thing Podcast. You can find the episode here and grab a copy of the book here.