This summer, I accidentally-on-purpose started watching Love It or List It on HGTV. I know. I know.
The premise of the show is this: a couple or family lives in a house that was once good enough but has now become A Problem. One person usually wants OUT. Like, yesterday. The other person, blinded by the many-layered fairy dust of nostalgia and potential, wants to stay.
In swoops HGTV’s celebrity anti-team, Hilary and David. David is a real-estate agent who will try to entice the couple into abandoning their home for a new, superior model. On the other side of the coin, Designer Hilary oversees the redesign and renovation of the current home, trying to fix its problems, realize its potential, and convince the couple to “Love It” rather than “List It.”
Like I said, I know. It’s a little silly. Pretty formulaic. At its best, it’s like eating potato chips straight out of a bag. At its worst, it’s basically house porn, and every time I watch it, I end up releasing martyred sighs over my ’80s-style cabinets and light fixtures and banisters. If only I had a $60,000 reno budget and a team of designers! I wonder if we should knock down that wall . . .
But I don’t want to talk about my house-porn issues here. What I do want to talk about is the part of the show when Designer Hilary inevitably encounters A Major Problem.
Here’s how it goes. Hilary has a plan. She has walked through the house and imagined a new, beautiful version. She has this superpower where she can move walls with her eyes, envision the thing without all the mess and the bad furniture and the old appliances. She can see it. And you know if she doesn’t hit any major snags, she might just make this old place sing again.
But of course, she hits a snag. She always hits a snag.
They rip out a wall in the basement and find, instead of quality insulation, Styrofoam. They open up a kitchen wall and find the electrical wiring was done by some hack and the whole place is two seconds away from exploding. Water has been seeping into the basement walls, and now there is mold. Some carpenter ants are living in the living room walls, and the floor in the kitchen needs a new subfloor of plywood before Hilary can add that beautiful, hardwood flooring.
And of course, all that means money, money, money. It means the house can’t be reimagined, reconfigured, redone the way she dreamed. It means hard, costly, invisible changes . . . just to make the thing safe, structurally sound, inhabitable.
I hate that part. Like, I really, really hate that part. I take it personally in a disproportionate way—as if it’s me, not this random couple on TV, who is losing out on the updated kitchen because Hilary has to deal with the carpenter ants.
And usually when I get all unbalanced over a television show, it’s not about the show. It’s about something else.
A lot of the time, it feels like my faith is an old house, falling down.
It seemed like a dream home once, back when I stood on the new, firm foundation of JESUS and watched in awe as the whole thing started going up around me. One wall, then another, all of it exactly what I needed.
But now, twenty-five years later, the whole things feels outdated with ’90s fixtures. The rooms that once seemed spacious are stuffed full with all my baggage.
And worse, it’s crumbling around me in invisible, terrifying ways. If Hilary and crew came in with a jackhammer to tear up the walls and make the place feel new, they would find so much interior damage.
They would find that some of those who helped to build my faith into a house did it wrong. They took shortcuts they shouldn’t have taken; they used the cheap stuff; they made a mess of things.
And I don’t think I’m unique here. All it takes is one enthusiastic DIY-er whose heart is in the right place—but who doesn’t know squat about construction—to screw the whole thing up. I think that happens all the time . . . and mostly, it’s not on purpose.
It even seemed to be happening in the Corinthian church back in the early days of Christianity. In The Message Bible’s version of 1 Corinthians 3, Paul uses the metaphor of house-building to talk about the work he and his contemporary, Apollos, are doing with the church.
Let each carpenter who comes on the job take care to build on the foundation! Remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ. Take particular care in picking out your building materials. Eventually there is going to be an inspection. If you use cheap or inferior materials, you’ll be found out. The inspection will be thorough and rigorous. You won’t get by with a thing. If your work passes inspection, fine; if it doesn’t, your part of the building will be torn out and started over. (vv. 9–15)
When I think about my half-falling down faith, the structurally unsound version of Christianity I have found myself tripping around in, I think about this passage.
Some fashions of ’90s evangelicalism that seemed so good at the time were actually cheap, bad quality substitutes for good craftsmanship. In some places, costly truth needed to be laid one sharp piece at a time, but instead shortcuts were taken.
Clichés like “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” and, “If you feel far away from God, guess who moved?” and, “Let go and let God!”—these are about as effective as Styrofoam insulation for keeping you warm when the blizzard hits and the temperatures dip to into the sub-zeros.
Here’s the bad news: it is hard work to strip the whole thing back down to the studs and start over. It’s messy and expensive, and for a long time, you find yourself living in the chaos of all that sawdust and demolition.
But here’s the good news: houses can be rebuilt.
Jesus. He is the sturdiest of all foundations, and he’s still there, underneath all that is broken and diseased and wrecked about your faith. And also, there are good builders—healthy, careful Christians; doctors and therapists; pastors and friends—who can help. We are not in this alone.
So take up your sledgehammer. Do not be discouraged. Yes, there is damage, but there is also so much potential. This will all be beautiful.
Rip out the Styrofoam, spray the carpenter ants, replace the molded boards. And all the time, feel your feet steady on the solid foundation beneath you. Know that it is enough.