Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Top 10 Lessons

I recently bought a house and spent the last few months honing my home repair skills. In the process I learned a lot about carpentry, painting, and plumbing. I also learned a lot about myself and, interestingly enough, spiritual growth.

Here are the top 10 things I learned about home repair that fascinatingly apply to the journey of faith:

#10 Always make a list and reward yourself by scratching things off. Maybe you think this is silly, but whether it is a mental list or an actual one (which I prefer) it helps you see where you’re going and where you have been. We make meeting agendas, chore list and even Christmas wish lists. When is the last time you made a nice-things-to-do-for-people-today-list or a vices-to-weed-out-list? Set spiritual goals. They motivate.

#9 Success is all about having the right tools. A paint can opener works better than a screwdriver. A screwdriver works better than a pair of scissors (even the ones conveniently within reach). A pair of scissors works better than your teeth. Promise. Seek out and use the proper tools – someone invented them for a reason. We have an awesome Church with awesome gifts of grace – embrace them!

#8 Everybody needs a drop cloth. Even pros make mistakes. Be humble enough to expect (and accept) mistakes. Mistakes can either set you back (if you keep worrying about and focusing on them) or spur you on (to do better next time). The latter is much more productive.

#7 Always over-estimate the amount of time it will take you. Chances are you’ll still be wrong (it will take longer) but if you finish “in time” you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Take your time. Don’t try to be Mother Teresa by noon tomorrow. Be a better you each day and you’ll get where you want to be eventually.

#6 Prep work is the hardest, but most important, work you’ll ever do. It saves you the time, energy, and frustrations that will come later. Think about this one on the eternal level. Our preparations now (frequenting the sacraments, growing in virtue) save us from a torturous eternal existence without God in hell. Wow. That is prep work worth doing.

#5 Pace yourself. Home repair never ends. Neither does our need to grow spiritually. If you start out in a sprint (convinced you can complete everything in one weekend, one month, even one year) you’ll drop speed, lose hope and maybe even quit. Make peace with where you are, but look hopefully towards progress.

#4 Never be ashamed to ask for help. Even if it is the same guy at Home Depot (or the same priest in confession) you asked for help that morning during the first trip of the day. This is the toughest one for me. I want to know how to do everything and do it well. But I can’t and I don’t. Even worse, I don’t want others to know this (yes, I know, they actually already know this, but I like to pretend they don’t)! Ah, pride. Just ask.

#3 Everything requires effort. Whether it is painting the walls, installing the toilet, tackling bad habits or making time for daily prayer, it won’t get done unless you do it. You can make lists (# 10) and prepare (#6) and ask for help (#4) but you have to put out real effort to move forward.

#2 Impatience NEVER speeds up progress. It usually derails you or sends you spiraling into despair. Impatience causes you to skip or ignore numbers 10 through 3 above. It gives you a bad attitude and causes stupid mistakes. It turns all things (and all people) into obstacles and puts all things out of focus (I mean, is painting all the trim before school starts really that important? Clearly not since I did not and I’m just fine.) Take a deep breath, reign in your “need for speed” and calmly begin.

#1 Take a break to enjoy the fruits of your labor . . .even if you’re not completely “done”. Life can’t be all about doing. We need time to just be. Take time to celebrate how far you have come and how much God has done in and for you. This is not a waste of time. It is an admittance that life is not just about what you accomplish. It is about who you are, Whose you are, and all He has done.

I like my house. There is still a lot of work to be done, but if I can learn to enjoy the process, I have a lot of fun ahead. And, no doubt, many more spiritual lessons to learn.

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