I rolled over a birthday this week. I turned 55: the hump year of the hump decade of a life. However, We don’t invest much energy or attention into birthdays in our family, and when we do it’s for epic birthdays ending in zero. So we’ll party big in five more years.
On the page for June 23 in my Daily Bible I’ve written where I happen to be sitting each year when reading on my birthday. Most of the entries are from someplace in Midland, but one says “Oak Hills Church in San Antonio” and another says, “Dongying, China.” The most frequent entry is “Whataburger.” I am a predictable guy, I’ll admit. In fact, predictability makes me happy.
But I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately, being changed as a person, especially in my exploration of Ephesians 3:17 and what it means to be at home. Specifically, I’ve wondered about how our homes change us. One thing that’s surprised me about getting older is that I am more open to change now than I was when I was younger. I expected the opposite. I thought I’d get to be more set in my ways.
I’ve been reading A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan, and he included a famous quote from Winston Churchill: “First we shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us.”
Having lived in a house we designed for 2-1/2 years now, we are the truth of Churchill’s statement. Cyndi and I spent five months working on the house plans - moving doorways, squeezing guest bedrooms, sizing bookshelves, locating light switches, eliminating excessive hallways, and on and on. We wanted a house shaped just for us so we could live the way we prefer. We might still be working on the plans even today had our patient builder Gary Kahler not gently suggested that we finish up since new building codes were going into effect and that always pushed the cost up. We completed our work that week.
But as much time as we spent shaping our living spaces, our lives have been shaped even more by the resulting house. Our patterns of movement, our private spaces, where we lay our sunglasses and keys, our dump-counter where we unload our arms of stuff after coming in from the garage. The floor plan has had an impact on me in ways I didn’t expect: my work habits, my routines, and my structure. The open spaces I helped to shape have shaped me into a more social person. In addition, we’ve lived with double the occupancy we anticipated, so that has instigated more changes.
Having said that, there are very few things about our house we would change if we had it to do over. Cyndi would put more pocket doors and fewer conventional swinging doors. We’d probably rework our drop-off area near the garage to make it more accessible, and we might reconfigure our bathroom for more light and to make room for Cyndi to sit at her counter. I would move a door or window just enough to eliminate the line-of-sight from our shower … if all the doors are open, which they often are, it is a clear visual shot from shower door through the bedroom, through the library, across the veranda, and into the kitchen. One morning I stepped out of the shower and realized I was looking at our friend and neighbor, Patti, who was standing in the kitchen visiting with Cyndi and Tanya. Oops; didn’t expect that.
Mr. Churchill’s statement is true about a lot more things than living spaces. It is also true about close relationships. Most of us began our closest relationship - marriage - by carefully selecting our intended partner and moving through the vetting process (dating), and after committing to the relationship we created, much like drawing up house plans, we learned that the process had only begun. From that point forward we are shaped and modified and changed by the relationship that we thought was just what we wanted.
That is, we are changed if we allow it; if we don’t stubbornly refuse.
It’s hip among motivational speaker types to say we should live our lives as thermostats rather than as thermometers. In other words, we should be the ones who initiate change rather than the ones who merely respond to change. I believe, in most cases, that is correct. It’s the reason I decided to publish my own books rather than continue to beg publishers to pick them from the lineup. I spent too many years standing against the literary wall frantically waving my hand back and forth while jumping up and down and hollering, “Pick me, pick me!” I decided to be a thermostat and initiate change. I picked myself.
But always being the initiator can’t be the whole story of life. Growing up means sometimes choosing to be the thermometer. Sometimes we allow ourselves to be changed … by places, by people, by God. We intentionally put ourselves under someone’s teaching or visit a holy place or dive into God’s Word hoping to be changed by the encounter.
To become our best we have to be willing to be changed by our environment, by our relationships. We have to be willing to be changed by God.
And so, we can consider change as as indicator. If we are the same person today we were five years ago, if we haven’t changed at all, we aren’t growing.
May we live our lives in strength ready to change the world around us, and may we be humble enough to let ourselves be changed.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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