Necessary Destruction

Part of re-building is tearing down. That, it seems, is an unavoidable lesson, and one that I’ve learned through water.

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We spent a lot of time destroying the old at Wesley Foundation in the past few weeks, all in preparation for something new.

Once it gets into a place it is not supposed to be, water can do all manner of damage. It ruins fabric, rusts metal, warps flooring. It rots away wood and seeps up into drywall, inviting mold and mildew that can range from unpleasant to toxic.

Before anything can be put back in its place after a flood, the ruined material has to be taken out, lest it weaken or corrupt the new. The first step in reconstruction is necessary destruction.

This, I think, provides a pretty strong and pretty clear metaphor for the way life goes: we can’t fully move into something new without tearing out something old. It’s the same advice the Apostle Paul gave. Consider the past rubbish. Throw it aside. Forget what is behind, and full steam ahead.

I have to admit, however, that I am uncomfortable with the metaphor of destruction, true though it may be. For one thing, it feels like a lesson in theoretical physics: just because we know (or think we know) something doesn’t mean we can put that knowledge to any practical use. That, in fact, is one of Paul’s laments, that he cannot seem to bring himself to banish evil and do the good his heart desires.

I’m also hesitant to talk about destruction because we deal with so much of it already–loss and fear of loss that take away precious things or people, or that steal the joy found in those things. I confess that I sometimes cringe when I hear rhetoric of change, especially in church settings, because I know it will mean imposing yet another loss on someone else.

Still, the metaphor of destruction holds, regardless of how much I dislike it personally. So I try to think of it in a more positive light.

My favorite example is from a book we read to our youngest son at least six times a week when he was a toddler. In it, a group of friends plants a garden together. Everybody’s plot grows except one–that is, until another friend harvests his sunflowers, allowing light to fall on the empty strawberry patch. Once the sunlight hits the bare plot, it too begins to grow and produce fruit.

The thing that was keeping something else from growing had to be removed, but that could be done with a celebration of what it had produced.

I try to present this to my college students when we talk about relationships. A breakup doesn’t necessarily invalidate what was a good thing. It may only be a time of tearing out–painful, yes, but necessary to allow for a strong rebuilding. Other examples abound.

It’s not a neat process, of course. Some necessary destruction looks downright awful and feels even worse. And truthfully, most of us experience tearing down and rebuilding as overlapping processes.

Then again, I’ve lived through enough changes (my own and those I care about) to know not to expect tidiness, not when it comes to internal or external change. Necessary destruction is still destruction, but by God’s grace it doesn’t have to destroy us. Rather, it can pave the way for something new.

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