“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful,
a puzzle that no one can figure out.
But I, God, search the heart
and examine the mind.
I get to the heart of the human.
I get to the root of things.
I treat them as they really are,
not as they pretend to be.”
-Jeremiah 17:9-10 (MSG)
The number of times that someone walked into our basement and yelled “oh no!” this week set a record. And it wasn’t just because I placed one of Bethany’s horrifying costume mannequinns at the bottom of the dark stairs to create lasting memories with my children.
No, unfortunately the cries of terror were because water was either gushing onto, or up from, our basement floor. Our new house is a great fit for us, but we discovered that it had a shadow side to it this week when we encountered major plumbing issues that needed emergency intervention. We had a very old pipe that clogged as it ran into our basement cement floor, having become completely blocked with decades of buildup. Water started spilling out of an old overflow valve in the basement all over the floor with no warning. We halted everything, called an emergency plumber and they spent 11 hours hacking into our house, shutting off systems, trying to isolate the problem, and then eventually cutting out a huge section of pipe in the basement and replacing a whole bunch of stuff. You can see I’m very technical when it comes to plumbing.
The plumbing guys dumped a few buckets of water down the sinks to show us all was clear, and left a little after 9pm. We were exhausted and relieved when we finally had the house to ourselves. It was a big job, but at least it was fixed and over for good.
That is, until about an hour later when my wife shouted as she opened the basement door again. “OH NOOO!"
The dishwasher and washing machine were running, since our activity had been paused all day. The replaced pipe was working perfectly. It was just that now, black water was bubbling up from beneath our basement floor (and the depths of Sheol) into our house. The problem had simply moved a few feet over.
We’re a week into lent.
Sometimes I talk about lent as a season of "spring cleaning for the soul.” That sounds cheerful! But I wonder if it’s more like a construction project or an old plumbing job that keeps revealing that more work is needed. As we take time to address something that’s off track in our own lives, the project often gets more invasive than we had planned. If we invite Jesus to address our symptoms, he may work with us on treating them, but he will often point out the systemic problems that are really behind it all. He’ll start excavating the heart so that it can become a new and healthy space. But wow, there are a lot of mysterious twists and turns in the human heart, and often you can’t see what’s in there until you rip a few things open.
I’m finding that season for me right now. I’ve had some pesky areas of self-focus that nag me. But trying to walk through those areas is bringing other, more significant issues bubbling to the surface that are about trust, rest, and identity. The job is going to be bigger than I had planned.
The good news in all this? We have a plumber who knows what he’s doing! (Am I taking this metaphor too far? I think I’m taking this metaphor too far.)
We called a different company to come the next day. They had a lot of experience in our area, and found that a root had grown into one of our main lines underground in front of the house. They cleared it out, cleaned everything up, and made sure to stay while the dishwasher, sink, washing machine, and toilets were all at full power. I’ve never been so delighted to put my face up against a sewer pipe.
Once things got cleared in our house with no further screams from the basement, there was peace in a new way. We had the ability once again to look up from our own stuff and begin focusing on the world around us. Yep, it was costly. And yes, it took time and patience and a few frustrated tears in the family. And maybe we’ll run into more issues in the coming weeks or months that need addressing, because we all know that the work is never finished. But we’re not where we were, and I’m delighting in that today.
As you walk into the mysterious realm of your own human heart with Jesus during these weeks, I want to encourage you to be unafraid to explore the deepest issues. When the thing behind the thing emerges, welcome it as an opportunity to discover God’s grace in a new way, and walk with Jesus in trust and vulnerability like never before.
Jesus, renovate my heart.