Leanne and I had help recently putting up some new wall paneling in our house. The project involved adding support strips to hold the paneling, which in turn meant that we had to find the studs behind our plaster wall. I know the process of finding studs by tapping on the wall, but I’m no good at it through plaster. My helper, Dave, knew how to poke around with a drill to find the parts of the wall that had wood underneath. I suppose I too knew this was an option, but I was sure glad to let someone with more experience do the job for me!

Just as we could all have expected, things turned out a little more complicated than they looked. For most of the wall, the studs were spaced regularly at 16 inches, and every test poke met a stud. Toward the front of the house, however, one stud seemed to be at least twice as wide as the others. Sixteen inches farther forward, the drill slipped right through the plaster and into the hollow wall.

We poked around more thoroughly and located a different set of studs, still evenly spaced but offset from the spacing of the rest of the wall. Evidently, the front part of the room had been a porch at one time. When the porch was enclosed, we ended up with two different walls that line up but aren’t quite the same. Once we knew the layout of the studs, it took just a little more exploration and ingenuity to arrange the support strips. We must have arranged things pretty successfully, because so far the new paneling hasn’t fallen down! (Knock on wood – but not too hard, just to be safe.)

I was impressed at the way Dave solved the problem of where our wall studs had gone. If I had been left to my own devices, I would have been frustrated and probably given up on the project. He, on the other hand, knew that the studs had to be somewhere, and all we had to do was to track them down. I would have only been baffled by the problem; he saw that the problem pointed us to its solution.

I have enough pride to remind myself, even as I write this, that I have problem-solving skills of my own. When faced with the kind of problem I understand, I can work just as patiently and creatively to untangle the knot. Most of us meet challenges more calmly and confidently when we’re familiar with the way things “fit together.” We each have unique areas we can face with this kind of confidence, and when we gather as the church, one or more of us will have the skills to solve just about any problem.

God did a marvelously creative thing in calling together a group of people with such diverse skills, tastes, and senses of the divine presence in our world. We may not be able to see with each other’s eyes, we may not even be convinced that the other people who belong to this church are looking at the same God we are, but somehow we find the love that binds us together on a level deeper than our differences. That connection, the grace that insists on making us a church no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable we may be with each other, eventually transforms our differences from sources of tension into conduits of new life.

Challenging situations can magnify either dimension of our differences, usually both. When we face problems in community, we may mistrust the confusing directions others lead us or give thanks that someone else’s gifts help us to discover a way we wouldn’t have found on our own. Even when our skills seem more suited to the problem than someone else’s, we can either try to push the resistance out of the way or allow their questions to deepen our understanding of the situation we face.

Many of the challenges we face today – as a church, as individuals, and as a community – are like the one Dave and I faced when we went looking for wall studs. Something changes about the pattern of life without it being clear on the surface just what happens. It takes some extra exploring to find where the new pattern is and how to connect it with who we’ve been. No one of us by ourselves has all the knowledge we need to do that.

The good news is that we do have enough knowledge among us, when we all share our gifts with each other. When we allow ourselves to be guided by the collective wisdom with which God has blessed us, we can find solutions we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. When we trust that God has tied us together more profoundly than we can separate, we are able to live in community more richly than we could have imagined.

In Christ’s peace,

Nathan

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