I rang in the new year, in part, by installing shutters on our house. I don’t mean to brag.
Now, before you’re tempted to hire me for all your home improvement needs, I will warn you: I’m terrible at house projects. I don’t enjoy them and have very little confidence in my ability to carry them out. I consider these shutters to be something of an anomaly. Keep in mind: It’s not yet been a week.
But we needed shutters; our house needed dimension. My wife – having thoroughly combed through all the Google search results for “installing shutters” – determined it was both cost-effective and not utterly impossible for me to dust off and utilize my drill without the assistance of a professional handyman. And I am always willing to face down impossible odds in the name of being “cost-effective.”
A ladder, though, was necessary.
And so, part of our new year shutter installation involved knocking on doors and greeting neighbors, all while ferreting out a ladder.
Finally, ladder in hand – or, rather, beneath foot – and drill actually in hand, my wife and I began our work.
As it turns out, my house has two different kinds of siding: one that is quite easy to drill through – drill through to what is anyone’s guess – and one that is decidedly not. Atop the ladder, sweat beading at my brow, I switched one drill bit for another as I forced a hole into the side of my house that I was not at all confident was necessary, properly aligned or destined to be anything other than a source of irreversible damage.
There was much wailing and grinding of teeth. And cursing.
I nearly gave up. I likely would have, too, had the front of the house not looked inane with only half the shutters up. (Our neighbors so kindly humored our ladder request during the holidays; I couldn’t leave them with an eyesore for their trouble.) So, we kept at it. And we succeeded.
But here’s the thing I wondered atop that ladder: Why was I so anxious – maybe even fearful – to attempt the project? My wife really did do thorough research; we knew exactly what needed to happen. We have the necessary tools and a street full of neighbors willing to lend a ladder.
But the worry was still there and still real. It boiled down to two things: First, I physically couldn’t see through the wall, didn’t fully understand all the pieces and parts in play. What was I drilling through? Was it working?
Second, what would I do if I got it wrong? I barely have the know-how to charge the drill; I definitely couldn’t troubleshoot a failed shutter installation. What would happen to all those misplaced holes potentially adorning the front of my home?
I was afraid of what I couldn’t see and what I couldn’t know.
Here’s the thing: I bet we’re all looking to attach some shutters to our proverbial homes this new year. We’ve probably made resolutions to do just that.
I’m not saying each of us is going to climb a ladder and fasten literal shutters to our actual homes. But there are goals we all have in mind, tasks we’ve set before us, hopes, dreams and aspirations.
And in the face of our resolve is the unknown: that which we can’t see and can’t know. Do we go on anyway? Or, do we allow the unknown to paralyze us?
The essential thing about our faith – the very thing we celebrated just days ago at Christmas – is that Christ has entered the world, continues to enter our world. Everything – every. single. thing. – glistens with the Christ light. That very mystery – the mystery of the unknown – is actually an invitation into Mystery, the invitation to step with faith into God.
We can never see or know where that will lead us. And we can spend all our time wringing our hands in wonder, unsure of what might come or what might be expected of us. We will inevitably fall short; we’ll put those proverbial holes in the sides of our homes where they decidedly don’t belong.
Two things to keep in mind: Our God is intimately concerned about the nitty gritty seemingly mundane desires buried within our New Year’s resolutions. God wants us to succeed, wants us to delve deeply into the holy desires our resolutions can reveal. And, we’re told again and again in Scripture: Do not be afraid.
Here’s what I think we all might learn for the year ahead in our spiritual lives – and the manifestation of our resolutions – from my struggle with shutters:
1. Trust the knowledge that has been produced through experience and tradition – religious, familial, cultural, what have you.
2. Trust the kindness of those in the community around you. People do want to lend you a ladder and see you succeed.
3. Trust in that same Christ at work in hidden ways within you, born in the stable and born through the realization of your own dreams and desires each and every day. You might not think you’re up to the task; God thinks otherwise – and will prove it.
At the end of the day – and at the end of the year – God delights in us: in the holes we accidently drill in the wall, in the shutters we successfully fasten to the house, in the conversations we have in search of a ladder and in the myriad small, seemingly mundane ways we birth Christ every day of the year.
May we all be blessings to one other in 2023.
Eric A. Clayton is the author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian.