“They do not know, nor do they understand;
They walk about in darkness;
All the foundations of the earth are unstable.”
The clay of north central Texas is known to expand and contract, hence no basements to be found around here. We run soaker hoses next to the house during dry spells to keep the earth – can you call it soil? – around the house from shrinking, thereby shifting the foundation to the point of causing stress fractures in the floor, walls, and ceiling. It’s common in Texas to see cracks in ceilings and walls, and even hairline cracks in foundations. We don’t think too much about it. Usually these require only cosmetic repair, but sometimes there is structural damage. In the worst cases the foundation has to be re-leveled and reinforced with concrete pilings or piers that restore it. Scores of companies provide this service, and business is good.
Years ago while house hunting, I was shown a home that had been repaired in this way. One of the pilings, a round circle of concrete mismatched from that around it, was visible. The price of the house was discounted because buyers shy away from foundation trouble. Who knows if more problems might surface down the road? But when you think about it, wouldn’t it be smart to invest in the house where the problems have been identified and repaired? Might the house next to it, sitting on similar ground, be next? Yet we don’t really think that way, do we?
Houses are like lives sometimes.
In Matthew 7:24-27, a disciple recorded the Lord making a comparison between people who live according to God’s commands and people who build their homes on solid foundations. I suspect I’m not too different from most folks in that I’ve always read that passage with only the all or nothing in mind. That is, the house either stands or falls without much middle ground. In fact, the Lord mentions the terrible fall of a house built on sand when the wind and rain come.
Calamity notwithstanding, it does seem most of us dwell in houses like these in north Texas. They’re mostly stable, but there is some cracking where part of the house sits on shifting soil. We’re situated, most of us, somewhat on the truth and somewhat on the ways of this old world, a.k.a. culture. We expect to see little cracks here and there, and we patch them up best we can in the privacy of our interior lives. Sometimes, though, the foundation falls away suddenly or dramatically, and real structural damage occurs. Then it’s time to call for help, which is wonderful, but the repairs often leave tell-tale signs the problems were there. Just like a house that’s been jacked-up, figuratively and literally.
It’s not possible to build anything that lasts on the ways of this old world, even though we try. The earth itself won’t last forever. The cracks and gaps in our lives, large and small, bear witness to our bad choices about where to build. Our repairs aren’t always perfect either. If we’re smart, we’ll see even imperfect repairs as real victories and nothing to be ashamed of. After all, we’re in this together – encountering the same temptations as everybody else (1 Corinthians 10:12).
So if our neighbor suddenly has foundation trouble, let’s not get too caught up in thinking better him than me lest we come next. Compassion begets compassion. And if we discover a fissure of our own that seems to shoot out of nowhere, remember where such faults come from.
At the risk of mixing metaphors – but perhaps no more than Master Donne himself – it seems his ancient poem fits.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
© M. K. Simonds