For the last year, I’ve been overseeing the restoration of two 18th century homes in a North Yorkshire village. The Yorkshire Post ran an article about them when they first came to the open market in 2017, after two centuries of ownership by one family. They dubbed them ‘time warp cottages’ with ‘potential’.
A few weeks after we had completed on our purchase of these semi-derelict properties, I stood in one of the old kitchens with a structural engineer while he shook his head at my relative inexperience in the field of property restoration, and told me I had taken on too much. These houses would not be ‘easy’ to fix up he told me candidly. Something about his manner and tone of voice said to me that his advice would be neither simple nor cheap. I was wrong, however. His recommendations came as drawings I could easily understand and his fee was reasonable too.
One year on, we have completed all the structural repairs in these old cottages. The plasterer is now in the final stages of covering all exposed stone, pipes and wires with smooth, paintable surfaces. Working with a long-established local builder, and our local authority planners, we have managed to find solutions to all of the restoration challenges these old buildings have thrown at us over the last twelve months.
The plasterer, a man in his early fifties, takes great pride in his work. He tells me he always enjoys working for this particular building company as “it’s just so easy”. “Easy?” I raise an eyebrow questioningly while surveying the various nooks and crannies of these old cottage walls and mentally chalking off all the long December days he has spent working in this cold, inhospitable place. He grins. “Well, you know” he continues, “I enjoy plastering, and with this builder, there is never any tricky stuff that can’t get sorted with a telephone call or a chat on site”. I nod, and I do understand as it’s been like this for me too in my dealings with this builder and his team during this whole project to date.
Truthfully, life isn’t easy. Many rogue tradespeople make people’s lives miserable. Ill-health often catches us unaware, and doctors don’t always have easy answers or cures. Politicians and policymakers frequently seem to be working against, rather than for us, and even in our personal lives we trade hurt with each other through selfishness, ignorance, deceit and unreasonable demands.
What is on your wish list for an ‘easy’ life’? A more thoughtful husband/wife/parent/child? More money? A modern, traditional, larger or smaller home? More holidays in the sun? A better work-life balance?
Jesus tells us that our Heavenly Father knows all our needs (Matthew 6, 32).
When I first contacted the building firm doing our renovation work, I had a long list of needs (and some wants), drafted painstakingly after months of consultation with experts. In the early days of this project, I was determined to manage this list myself and tick off each job as it was done. Our builder simply stated, however, that he didn’t work that way. He wanted to do the ‘whole job’, managing everything day to day. I would remain closely involved and would be consulted on all the big issues. At that point, I had a huge decision to make – whether to trust this one person with my whole project? I prayed, did my homework to check the builder’s reputation, then took a large gulp and released that list from my sweaty palms. It has (honestly) been the best decision I have made in the whole project. I needed the support of someone who knew what to do on finding unexpected problems. I needed an experienced builder who instinctively knew which jobs needed doing by whom and in what order. I have valued the unhurried approach this builder has taken throughout the project, his attention to detail and the craftsmanship of each tradesperson as they seamlessly weave around each other on site, singing along to a local radio station most days.
We often come to Jesus clutching our (long) list of needs, praying for him to meet each one in a priority of our choosing. Like my builder, however, Jesus tells us he doesn’t work that way. He says: “come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11, 28-30)
A yoke, in ancient farming terms, is a wooden structure that was fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plough or cart they were to pull. It is a powerful metaphor of partnership in the pulling of heavy loads. Just as I needed to work in collaboration with a reputable builder on my renovation project, so Jesus offers to partner with us in the difficulties of life.
Jesus offers ‘easy’ living, but only when we relinquish jealous control of our ‘life list’ to his expert management and direction.
Jesus’ partnership is more than Him being a ‘little bird on our shoulder’ to remind us of His presence amidst the daily grind. Jesus does not merely require that we change our attitude to our problems, work smarter or harder. Instead, He asks for something quite radical and sacrificial. In the words of my builder He wants to do ‘the whole job’, and, deep gulp, am I ready to relinquish that all-important list to Him?
Together with Jesus:
I can find solutions to problems I always believed were insurmountable.
I can forgive the unforgivable.
I can accept situations previously intolerable.
I can relinquish unnecessary things
I can live ‘easily’.