The first house that Laura and I bought needed a lot of cosmetic love.
The first day we owned it I pulled out the avocado green dishwasher with a couple buddies. And, yes, the old shut-offs were leaky so water was soon cascading into the basement. Within a couple of months, though, we had laid the kitchen tile, painted the cabinets, replaced the counter tops, changed the sink fixture, moved in the new appliances–and voila! The kitchen was beautiful (and all decked out to the Night Kitchen theme).
With saws and nails and hammers in hand, we loved on the dining room by tacking up wainscoting and chair rail, painting with a silver linen look, and changing out the light fixture.
I love that first house, not because it was an awesome house, but because we poured our labor into it.
Last weekend, I finally made good on a vision for planting some flowery vines and other things in front of our house here in San Francisco. It wasn’t much, but it makes a huge difference in how I see the house. And I’m proud of the my house here for perhaps the first time. I love the way those changes enhance the way it looks.
It wasn’t love that made me labor, it was labor that made me love.
John Locke proposed that mixing your labor with the soil was how property rights developed. I don’t know about his theories of government or his history, but I know the feeling he’s talking about. When you mix your labor with something, you feel like it’s yours.
The same goes for our relationships.
Once upon a time, the main pre-marriage counseling that my circle was into was a set of bootlegged Tim Keller sermons. He was talking at one point about how we treat children differently from our spouses: “By the time that child is 18 years old, even if he has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, you love him. Why? Because you’ve spent the past 18 years pouring yourself into him.” Conversely, in marriage, we hope to find our fulfillment by having our own needs met by the other rather than discovering love in pouring our life into our spouse.
And there’s the trick. Too often in our relationships we look for someone, or something in the case of organizations, that are worth loving, and then envision ourselves laboring there–at least for as long as the initial infatuation lasts.
But perhaps that is only a quick fix. Perhaps real love doesn’t work that way. Perhaps real love, be it of an individual or a community, is not about responding to love with labor, but cultivating love through our labors. Perhaps the dynamic that more truly satisfies, the place where more profound love, develops, is not in the discovery of the lovely, but in the cultivation of love through our giving ourselves to our beloved.
Can we ever love a church if we ask it to meet our needs? Or will we only love it if we give ourselves to it? Can we ever love a city if we only use its resources to meet our expectations? Or will we only love if we pour out our lives in making it better?
Mix a little labor. See what happens.