We needed new flooring in our family room. Off-white carpet had existed in this room that is mostly used as a playroom for our four children and our two dogs since we first moved into our home over ten years ago. The original shag is stained in many places from dripping red Popsicles, apple juice from leaky cups, dropped bits of Play-dough, and muddy boots and paws. It is a well-used room, situated between our backyard and garage. It is a terrible place for off-white carpeting.
We decided to remove the carpet and prepare for the new floor installation ourselves. How hard could it be to pull up the old carpet that was already coming up along one wall? How difficult could it be to sweep and wash the exposed flooring underneath? Silly me.
It was ugly. It was filthy. It was embarrassing. My husband cut and pulled up strips of the old carpeting while I followed him, rolling the filthy, stinking carpet strips and taping them closed so they could be carried to the bottom of our driveway for trash pick-up. Once the carpet was out, we did the same with the tattered padding underneath, and we found dirt that was so thick in some places it looked like a shallow sandbox. When I saw the dirt, I commented that the previous owners must have left it there when they installed the carpet. I really believed it couldn’t have been our dirt, and I was angry that the carpet installation had been so poorly executed.
As I spent an afternoon sweeping, scraping, scrubbing, and sweeping again, my anger at the previous homeowners gave way to cracks where truth seeped in: this was our dirt. Then a truth even harder to swallow poked its head out: I had arrogantly refused to believe the dirt was ours and instead blamed others who were innocent and not even around to defend themselves.
It struck me, then, that God was revealing to me something about myself. I have sometimes approached relationships in the same way I had approached this carpeting project. When I have found myself in a difficult spot with another person, with myself, or with my God, I have sometimes been blind to the ugliness within me. When dirt has been exposed, I have refused to accept that it is mine and instead have blamed another person for putting it there. I had to admit that at times I have believed another person’s actions toward me caused my ugly response. I now realized that something ugly was already within me before it seeped out in response to someone else.
I didn’t like what I saw under the surface of that old carpet, and I didn’t like what I saw under the surface of my heart either. So I scrubbed that floor until the old linoleum tile underneath looked like recently-installed vintage flooring. And as I scrubbed, I searched my heart for ugly lies I could replace with clean truth. It was not fun work, but it was rewarding work. And I learned four important things about working on relationships:
- When I see how much work is needed, I want to cover it up again. That was my reaction when the first strip of carpet was pulled up. Yuck! I don’t have time for this. Let’s just cover it back up. It is dirty underneath, but it doesn’t look that bad on the surface. This is also how difficult relationships are often handled. We want to remain ignorant because it is easier. But, contrary to the popular phrase, ignorance does not bring bliss. Exposing truth can only be good for us and others.
- Once I see the ugliness underneath, I can’t leave it there. The nagging of truth is a nuisance. It is also a blessing. When we know about a lie, a lack of forgiveness, or any other ugliness existing within us, we can’t help but pursue it. Something reflecting God inside of us wants to hunt it down and cut it out, to replace it with fruit of His Spirit.
- I can make big change if I focus on only the next step. When the carpet and padding was gone, I was overwhelmed with the amount of knees-on-floor hand scrubbing I needed to do. After one hour, I had made very little progress and wanted to give up or hire someone else to do the dirty work. But as I focused on just one little section of the floor at a time, putting the large project at the back of my mind, I started to see progress. I wouldn’t look at the entire floor for an hour or two and then, when I did look, I’d see that a long strip was clean, then half the room, then the entire floor. Broken or unbalanced relationships cannot be healed quickly, but focusing on one small area will lead to the next and the next and the next until we find ourselves in a new and renewed place together.
- Feeling clean is my greatest reward. I love lounging in our newly floored room. I hadn’t realized how little time I had spent in that room until now that I love being in it, playing with my kids on the floor, reading in the lounge chair, having a family picnic in the middle of the floor. I know what is under the surface in that room, and, though it is not perfect, it is clean. How many of our relationships are kept at the surface level because we are fearful of the hard work of repairing them? Our souls become at peace within us when we have cleaned up our side of a relationship. Gone is the awkwardness, the anxiety, the fear, and the shame. What remains is the enjoyment of simply being together, getting to know each other again, accepting the humanness in each other. There is nothing better than this grace-filled love for each other.
It was naive of me to think that my husband I were simply removing old carpeting in our family room. God always has bigger and more rewarding plans for His children than we have for ourselves. And while it is never easy to be taught a lesson by The Great Teacher, it feels good to know He loves me enough to correct me when I need it.