Journal entry 072911: Finish work

So I was enjoying two tasty enchiladas for lunch at Rosa’s with Cyndi, Tanya (sister), and Teena (aunt), when we talked about serving and finishing. The conversation eventually turned toward sewing since all three women pride themselves for their skills. Apparently, Cyndi’s mother also had a reputation for being an excellent seamstress, and she sewed most of the girl’s clothes as they were growing up, but she was also well-known for not completely finishing the last details - specifically, cutting the buttons holes and adding buttons.

“How did you wear your clothes without using buttons?” I asked.

Cyndi and Tanya answered immediately in unison, “Safety pins. We had lots of safety pins.”

The discussion reminded me of the experience a friend had when he bought a house south of Midland. He noticed the previous owner had done a lot of remodeling and made improvements on the house and property, but seldom completed all the finish work. As Gary described it, “Everything was 95 yards and no touchdown.”

I remembered a Bible verse that says, “Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.” (2 Corinthians 8:11, NIV)

I recently read a great book about architecture and building construction titled “A Place of my Own,” by Michael Pollan, and he compared finishing with framing. When we hear someone say - all that’s left is the finish work - it sounds like the construction project is almost over. Of course, that is completely wrong. Visible progress slows, changes are subtle, none of it seems heroic, but finishing the final details takes a long time.

Pollan wrote, “Framing, by comparison, is epic work: the raising from the ground of a whole new structure in a matter of days.” However, while “High ritual might attend the raising of a ridge beam, who ever felt the need to bless a baseboard molding, or say a little prayer over the punch list?”

When our own house was under construction in 2008, I would drive over every evening to stand on the same spot and take a photo. My goal was to have a slide show, a flip book, of the entire process. Being a process guy myself, I found the day-to-day progress fascinating, whether large or small. However, once the outside work was completed and the finish work begun, it seemed that construction slowed to a crawl. It didn’t, of course. The guys were still diligently working on our house. It’s just that it got harder to document in photos since it all took place inside.

I wrote in the margin of A Place Of My Own, “In my construction photo essay, you can’t see the finish work taking place. It’s hidden. Like character building, spiritual formation. But it’s the finish work that transforms a cold structure in a warm and cozy home.” Finish work, according to Michael Pollan, is concerned with “the intimate, inescapable surfaces of everyday life.”

The curious thing about finish work, especially for a house, is that it’s never finished. Even after we closed on our house and moved in, we were still working … adding shelves to closets, reworking the pantry, tweaking the irrigation system, refinishing the floor, etc.

It’s true for all houses, not just ours. Finish work is never finished. Not because the construction wasn’t done correctly, but because the inhabitants change … they get older, they take on new hobbies, they see a good idea in someone else’s house and bring it home, they want to keep up with changing styles and fashions, they add to their numbers.

And what’s true about finish work in house construction is also true about spiritual formation in our lives. It is never finished. Because we are constantly changing, we are growing, the details of our lives change, the people close to us change, we get older, we take on new ministries, we see good work in someone else’s life and bring it home to our own. Our finish work is never done.

Well, as I’m writing this I can think of several home projects I haven’t finished yet: my phone charger set-up on my bathroom counter, installation of outdoor speakers, repair of our drop-down movie screen, replacement of our home sound system. I am sure there are at least a dozen more projects I haven’t finished and should put on the list but I’m already tired of this topic and ready to move on to something else. Finishing can be exhausting.

However, aren’t you glad our spiritual finish work isn’t totally up to us and our own ability to persevere? We have powerful and persistent help. The Bible says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NIV)


PS: It occurred to me as I was finalizing this journal, that once you move into a house no one compliments the framing. They notice the finish work: baseboards, kitchen cabinets, bookshelves, wall textures and colors. It is the finish work that makes living in house a pleasant experience, and it is the personal finish work that makes a life worth knowing. In the long run, it is the finish work that matters most.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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