Coming Undone


A couple of Christmases ago, one of my daughters gave me a fun gift—a small, gray corrugated board-in-a-frame with a set of white letters and numbers that can be snapped into place to make words or short phrases. I quickly sorted through the alphabet and experimented with several different messages to mount on that little board. I settled on this one:

  “Coming undone is not always our undoing.”

That small square now hangs—very intentionally—in the line-of vision for guests who enter my small study for spiritual direction once a month. I want each one who comes here to know that the work we do together may sometimes involve coming undone. As we meet together—listening to what God is up to in their lives, looking for places of invitation—we may discover new ways of thinking about an old problem or enter into seasons of discerning whether old ideas remain true and trustworthy. It is good, good work but sometimes, it can feel a bit like the ground is shifting beneath us. Letting go of the old to make way for the new is a necessary and important developmental process, but it can be a messy and unsettling one, too. That’s what happens when we are brave enough to ask hard questions, to re-examine long-held beliefs, to admit that we’ve lost touch with God and want to begin again in a new and different way.

Let’s be honest here—it’s a dusty, unsettling business to allow the Holy Spirit space to breathe new life in us!  Renovation of the heart (to quote a wonderful Dallas Willard title) is a lot like doing a massive re-model on the home we currently live in. If you’ve ever lived through one (of more) of those, you know that the metaphor is apt. The last time we did a major project, my husband and I lived in two rooms of our home for a full year. We cooked on a hot plate in a small bathroom and ate dinner in front of an old TV, surrounded by furniture being temporarily stored in the one ‘relaxing’ room left to us! There was a LOT of dust, too many hazards to count just to get down the hall to the bedroom, and a ton of stuff to throw away every single day.

We were undone for a very long time. And I will admit that that particular season came close to undoing us, as well. Slowly, however, we could begin to see the skeleton of what was to come. Yes, trimming the size of our garage-long-ago-converted-into-a-family-room to make space for a small laundry, and then converting the original laundry space to a large, walk-in pantry was a brilliant plan. And completely knocking out the wall between dining area and living area opened the house in ways that were miraculous. But it wasn’t easy. And that is an understatement.

The expense was way more than we had budgeted for—good work costs something, right? And then there were—of course—complications along the way. We needed to re-route the plumbing and electrical piping from inside the concrete slab of our 1960s home up to a newly created space against the original plank ceiling. And that meant creating an entirely new ceiling that somehow looked enough like the old one to provide continuity with the rest of the house. And then we had to make sure all the floors matched, don’t you know?

It was exhausting, costly, and fabulous. That space made hospitality so much easier and provided long-needed extra storage in surprising ways. The end result was a home ready to welcome groups of all sizes; it was SO worth the mess and the confusion and the struggle.

We were definitely undone for a long season. But that difficult renovation did not prove to be our undoing. Instead, the creativity of our architect, the skill of the craftsmen who helped ideas become reality, and our commitment to see it through gave us the great gift of a streamlined, workable kitchen and the ability to provide the kind of hospitality we had long wanted to offer.

When we commit to seasons of spiritual renovation, the same kind of thing can happen within us. Yes, it will be tough sledding for a while. We may well have to toss out a lot of accumulated trash on a regular basis. And, to be honest—much like any work done on our physical home—the process will likely continue for the rest of our lives. There will always be something that needs fixing, discarding, transforming. We will necessarily be undone from time to time. But the good, hard work of spiritual renovation will never lead to our undoing. Instead, as we wrestle with what the Spirit is teaching us along life’s road, we discover that coming undone from time to time is exactly what we need.