Leaving Salem

Do you know the three most frightening words in the English language? “Some assembly required.” You order something online; a toy or a bicycle for your children. Or you go to a big box store to get a grill or piece of patio furniture. When UPS brings it to your door or you find the item you’re looking for in the store, it’s not ready to go like you saw in the online catalog or the advertisement in Sunday’s paper. No, no, no. “Some assembly required,” the tag on the box says.

So, you lug this box the size of a queen-sized mattress out to the garage and open it up. You spill out bucketfuls of screws, connectors, rods and unidentifiable small pieces of plastic that you will never use no matter what the directions say. And for the next six weeks you attempt to put this thing together.

The worst case for me was construction of the dreaded children’s play set. Child’s play it was not. When I was growing up our swing sets were just tubes of light weight aluminum. If you were swinging too high the front side of the entire swing set would rise off the ground a solid foot. Now, we have these play sets made of concrete anchored, sequoia-like treated timbers, and screws the length of baseball bats. Assembly requires the assistance of a civil engineer and a Masters degree from MIT. When I bought one of these behemoths for my children I was in the back yard with a slide rule and a skill saw for the entire summer. And I lost all credibility with my neighbors. There was no way they were going to that pastor’s church, not with the raging four-letter obscenities flying out of my mouth.

When we moved, to my children’s chagrin, I left the play set there; not so much as a gift to the family that bought our house. No, there was just no way I was going to disassemble it and attempt to put it back together again. Once was more than enough. It was too much work.

Some assembly required: This is true of the products you buy, the relationships you have, the children you are raising, and the kind of person you are becoming. We are all works in progress, even as this relates to our faith. The Apostle Paul said to the Philippians: “Continue to work out your salvation.” We have been given this wonderful gift of grace – the gift of salvation. Christ has redeemed us, calling us to himself to follow and imitate him.

This gift is like getting a bicycle in a box. It’s like owning a swing set, but the materials are stacked up in the back yard. It’s like possessing a new piece of patio furniture but it’s actually in a half dozen pieces. You’ve got to work it out. You’ve got to put it all together. You can’t ride the bike if it stays in the box. You can’t play on the swing set if it remains disassembled. You can’t enjoy your patio furniture if you don’t connect the pieces. And faith will not be what it is intended to be – what God wants it to be in your life – if you don’t work it out, if you don’t open the box and put it all together. Maybe faith has become such a misery – a burden – for some of us because we’re lugging around on our backs the box full of assorted spiritual materials rather than putting it all together.

So much informs and shapes our spirituality: The reading of Scripture, prayer and fasting, meditation and retreat, good works done in the name of Christ, service of the poor, worship, periods of contemplation and reflection, times of doubt and frustration. Somehow these all come together to make us who we are. Somehow these things become transformational in our lives. Somehow these pieces fit together to form something useful, something valuable, something that looks a lot like faith.

So pop the bands on that box that’s been waiting for you in the garage. Put on your work gloves and break out the tool chest. Call your neighbor to lend a hand. Before you know it, all the pieces will fall right into place.

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