July 5, 2011 by rebelwithalabelmaker
One morning years ago, I went downstairs to pop a load of laundry into the washer, and found myself ankle deep in icy water. As I stood there, frozen, for a moment, two thoughts ran through my mind. The first was: I knew we should have installed a timed sprinkler system rather than just trusted our memory with the hose.
The second was: Somebody has used old plastic baby gates to construct a bridge to get across this water. And the bridge was constructed in such a way that it was obvious it was created many hours ago, when the water level was considerably lower.
After turning off the hose, I went roaring up to the bedrooms of my older boys, then ten and fourteen, with murder in my eye. What lazy and selfish person had constructed a bridge to get across the water without so much as saying boo to anyone as the very foundation of the house was being threatened? Someone was about to get it.
“Oh, that was me,” the eleven year old said easily, as soon as he was awake and understood the question, “Last night, at about eleven. You said I could stay up late. I went to bed right at eleven, like we agreed.”
“And you walked over a puddle of water to do it?” I asked.
“Sure. Right at eleven, like we agreed.” David emphasized, still not sure why I was so angry.
“Why didn’t you say anything about the water?”
“Oh, that. Yeah, you were already asleep. It was eleven. I know how you feel about being woken up when you’re asleep. I figured I’d tell you first thing in the morning.” He paused for a moment then added. “Hey, there’s a puddle of water in the basement. Is it supposed to do that?”
How well I had taught him about the sacredness of sleep. How poorly I had taught him which things are worth waking up for. I use this metaphor a lot in my life when I think about change. Is it worth waking up for? Is it a pile of unfolded laundry, or is it a puddle in the basement. Does it hurt? Will it cause damage? Or is it merely an unmet should, or something that falls below a mythical standard?
I have noticed that I amass "shoulds" far too easily. Lists of things I'd like to do and change pile up in my mind like items in a closet–without my every scrutinizing them to make sure they should be there. It’s a mistake to think that the laundry lists we keep in our heads do anything other than hinder true change.
They are psychological and spiritual clutter that make the true flaws hard to see. The basement piled so high with magazines that meant it was two weeks before the flooding was noticed. The schedule so jammed with activities that the chest pain and shortness of breath were initially mistaken for stress.
Transformation begins with enough space to see, to think, to move, and to breathe. We are not superman, changing in a phone booth. If we are to choose changes—be they strengths to build or weaknesses to deal with—the first thing we need is room to grow in. The space to take on one thing carefully, thoughtfully, and with gentleness for ourselves and others.