Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Remodeling the Seasons of the Heart

If your past self from two years ago looked forward at the person you are today, would your past self be pleased or disappointed?

This is the question I found myself facing yesterday afternoon as I sat in pajama pants on my couch, lit only by the light of my computer screen and what little sunlight managed to make its way through the blanket of clouds outside.  It seemed a fitting question for December 30th.  Tonight, around the world, people will celebrate the new year and wish farewell to the old one.  Some people wait in fearful anticipation of the coming year, some are more than happy to wish 2014 farewell, and even others still, greet 2015 with excitement.  Personally, I fall into the group that happily wishes 2014 farewell. 

But regardless of which category you fall into, I can pretty much guarantee that we are all very different people from who we were at the beginning of 2014, and even more so from 2013.  This week I took a walk down memory lane and was forced to realize how different of a person I have become from just two years previous...and I was not sure I liked it.  Granted, there are certainly changes that I like, and some battles I have won, but in reality I think the things I would like to see change about myself far outnumber the things I actually like.

So there I sat, crushed to realize that I had become a person I did not actually like.  I don’t know where I’m going in life, and I am not sure I want to have anything to do with my old life.  Searching and praying for answers, the Lord, ever good and faithful, brought me broken and bewildered to the book of Ecclesiastes. 

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless”
(Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, NIV).

Here I was, thinking I had wasted the past two years as I read Solomon’s words.  “This guy gets me!” I thought.  Here is a king who has been blessed with everything a man could want, wisdom, wealth, women, etc. and he is looking back on his life and calls it meaningless!  For the rest of the evening, I sat there on the couch and soaked up all 12 chapters of Ecclesiastes, and although I had read those same words, countless times, I was blessed with a fresh glance at the book.  And there in those pages, I found all the answers to my many questions.

Around chapter 3, Ecclesiastes stops being just a pessimistic book and starts actually having a point you can see.   In some of my favorite verses in the entire Bible, Solomon reminds us that some emotions are acceptable and even proper to feel in the right time.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens: 
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,    
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
     a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

During the past two years, I’ve gone from having everything generally planned out.  I knew what God’s will was for my life; I was going to marry my high school sweetheart, settle down in Florida, have three kids, and work in ministry.  Woody Allen once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”  I’m not sure if God laughed, but my long-term plans were certainly not aligned with His.  Two years later, here I sit and everything has changed.  I’m single without any prospects, I don’t even like Florida, and while I still believe I will end up in ministry, I haven’t the foggiest idea what kind. 

With all of the uncertainty, it can be easy to fall into self pity, but this verse gave me just the reminder that I needed.  What I had planned out as my life, was based merely on a season, and while there was a time for that season of my life, that time has passed and the leaves of time are changing in my life.  Solomon goes on to say, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  I honestly have no clue what God is doing in my life, but I have no doubt it will be good.  As Solomon compared life to seasons, in the same way my life during the last two years can be compared to a tree undergoing the change of seasons.  What were once leaves as green as any forest has ever seen, began to die on me.  Everything I loved began to disappear.  But in that time of death, they did not just turn brown and fall off, they turned beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow as I found a peace and trust in the Lord that I had never known.  Now my branches lay bare, but I eagerly await the day that sprouts of green speckle my branches again and the leaves return anew.

While I may have found hope in those verses, I still sat there feeling as if something must be going wrong.  If I was supposed to be becoming a better person through this, then why did I not like the person I am now?  Once again discouraged, I began to once again reminisce on old times and stumbled upon the memory of my old summer job.  For three summers, I worked at my high school preparing the campus for the following school-year.  It certainly was not the most glamorous of jobs, and I usually went home with sweaty, paint-speckled skin. 

While I have plenty of stories from working there, the memory that stuck out the most today was the mess.  Yes.  The mess.  We always started the summer out by cleaning the baseboards which always resulted in the floors being spotted with chunks of old, dirty floor wax that we had scraped off of the disgusting baseboards.  Another part of the job was pulling out all of the furniture from every classroom and office, painting the room, cleaning the furniture, and either moving the stuff back into the same classroom, or into a different room altogether along with any new furniture that might have been purchased.  To get anywhere in the school you had to make your way through aisles of pushed aside furniture.  With more and more classrooms in transition all over the building as the summer progressed, the clutter accumulated inside the building until it was almost unrecognizable as a school. 

Now if you have ever done a remodeling job of any kind, you know that there are pretty much two laws of remodeling: 1) Things have to get messier before they get cleaner.  2) It is always harder than it looks.  Sure enough, the building looked like a bomb had gone off in it each summer, but as the summer drew to a close, the clutter began to diminish and everything was left with freshly painted rooms and shining, freshly waxed floors, filled with new and clean furniture.  It was always a good feeling to look on the finished product and know that you had been a part of that clean up.

As it so turns out, this is exactly what God has been doing with my heart these past two years.  Apparently it was time for a change.  Everything that I loved and was comfortable with was pulled out of my life.  The reason I don’t like where I am right now is because of the first law of remodeling, “Things have to get messier before they get cleaner.”  The furniture of my heart has pulled out of every one of their rooms.  I dislike who I am now more than before because all of my junk is out in the open waiting to be cleaned. The dust, I had grown accustomed to, is being wiped off.  All the chaos I feel in my life, is due to the clutter of change.  Those things I haven’t wanted to let go of, have been chipped away and forcibly removed, and therein lies the reason for the pain I have experience during these two years.  Isaiah 64:8 says, “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  God is molding us into a new creation.  I have no doubt that when this process is over, I will be thankful, and even amazed at where He has brought me.  “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11).  Just like in my high school, my heart will be fresh and clean at the end of this process.

Thanks to the second law of remodeling, it has been harder than I ever imagined.  I suppose there was more to clean out than I realize.  If I do not like where I am at today, it is because I have not arrived where I am going yet.  It hurts because there is a lot of change, and change is something I have never liked.  (Just ask my mom; we have video footage somewhere of six year-old me saying goodbye to our refrigerator the day we moved out of our old house.)  After today, my prayer has become Psalm 51:10.  “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

So as we celebrate this new year, I would encourage you to ask yourself the same question I asked myself: If your past self from two years ago looked forward at the person you are today, would your past self be pleased or disappointed?  If you find that the answer is disappointed, then let me encourage you to sit down in a quiet place somewhere and read the book of Ecclesiastes.  Perhaps God is remodeling the seasons of your heart.


  1. Great illustrations and well written, Caleb. I hope others will discuss the many excellent thoughts you expressed, but I'd like to offer some further encouragement to you and your readers in a different vein. I remember Barb Walter once giving me parenting advice about raising a son. She said to keep in mind the way that the angel of the LORD greets Gideon when encountering him hiding in fear from the Midianites. Rather than voicing God's displeasure over his current struggles, the angel of the LORD greets him by saying, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." Mrs. Walter pointed out to me that the Lord saw Gideon, not as he was but as God knew he would be with God's presence and that parents must see their sons similarly--through faith in what God will make them to be. Your father and I have been pleased to see the man that God has been fashioning in you for your lifetime, including the last two years. We know that, like Gideon, God is with you, and you will be the mighty warrior that He created you to be.

  2. This is so solid and you know that I can relate to it at every point. Change-Haters could be the name of our collegiate autobiography. Anyways, this is just incredible. I resonated at every point. Hope that more people read it and take advantage of your wisdom.