Grumbling was definitely more my style.
I stood high up on the ladder in the bedroom, with a bucket of paint in one hand, and an edging brush in the other. Thirty minutes ago I finished putting all the kids to bed. Ten minutes ago I finished cleaning the dinner dishes, and packing school lunches for tomorrow. As I reached up to the ceiling, my dish-wet hands sent a drop up my arm under my denim coveralls. I shivered. With my other wrist I wiped my arm dry, and brushed a stray hair out of my eyes. I took a breath, and dipped the brush into the paint bucket again. I thought about a friend’s daughter who was taking a gap year in between high school and college. It sounded like a dream: drinking plenty of coffee, and spending nights watching movies with friends. I thought about another friend, who posted on Facebook that her husband of 30 years buys her a little something from Tiffany and Co. every now and again, just to keep his wife happy. I huffed out a little sigh as I strained beyond my ladder to reach a farther corner of the ceiling. My sleepless brain played these two scenarios on loop over and over again. It was like having a bad song stuck in your head. Coffee. Movies. Friends. Diamonds. Fun. Gifts. Not-staying-up-too-late-repainting-a-room-when-I-can’t-even-think-straight. This all sounded much better months prior as we sat snuggling on the couch. Hey, let’s freshen up some of the rooms! Let’s work on home-improvement projects together! But now? It’s like we forgot we had an entire life as well. I mean really. What was I doing with my life?
Just then I heard my husband’s voice in the other room, where he was taping off the baseboards and spreading out drop cloths. He had come directly home from work to these rooms to see if yesterday’s spackle had hardened. He worked out here all evening while I made dinner and ended the childrens’ evening routine in the comfortable rooms of our home. Now he was taping off the floor in preparation to paint the room next to me. He let out a loud sigh, and I heard his muffled voice through the wall. He was talking to himself. I knew he was trying to keep himself awake. As I listened more closely, his words stopped me mid-brushstroke.
“I am winning. I am good at working hard. Thank you Lord for the strength to paint into the night. Your grace is what I cling to you.” His voice echoed in the empty room. “This is worth it. You oh God give me strength to finish my task. I am good at finishing. You make my hands strong. You are the one true God over all the earth, and I bow my heart to you.”
Strange. That didn’t sound anything like the audio file on loop within my own thoughts. In all honesty, I smirked at first. Poor guy must be getting dingy after so many nights working on this home improvement project with me. But I kept listening, and he kept talking.
“Oh Lord, you are so good to me. You’ve given me every good thing in my life. And so I bow to you. How great are your thoughts, oh God. You are excellent in all you do.”
His back was aching. His hands and forearm ligaments were strained from working in the trades all day, then working on our property halfway into the night. His feet ground into his work boots with each step. His immune system flagged; each swallow touched a sore throat coming on.
I looked back at my paintbrush. I turned around, high up on my ladder to survey my room. I had almost finished edging the walls. I blinked slowly, and gripped the top rung of the ladder.
“Thank you God for paint.” I began. It felt weird to pray. I still had lattes and diamonds taunting me in my head. Still, I didn’t want my husband to show me up. I could do that too. I could pray. I could cheer myself on. I could. Just watch.
“Thank you God for ladders. Thank you that I can work hard. I have what it takes. I am good at painting. See my good work? And I really like hearing my husband in the other room, cheering himself on. Thank you Lord. He is a good man. And he is MINE.” With that thought, my heart swelled. I quietly finished my room and climbed down the ladder.
Brushing aside the painter’s plastic draped over the doorway, I stepped into his room. He had almost finished masking off the floorboards. His back crouched down on the far side.
“Looks good in here.” I said. He stood up and turned. His tired eyes brightened at me and his cheeks smiled under his beard. The stillness of the night out the window stood moonless. We were the only two awake and painting at our house. In that moment it felt like we were the only two awake in the world. A solidarity passed between us, as we surveyed each others’ paint smudges and tired faces. Lattes and diamonds fell away, in the presence of something holy and forging.
“Thanks.” He said.
“Mind if I start edging, while you roll?” I asked.
“Welcome aboard.” He said, reaching for the paint tray.
As we painted into the night, Our conversation was spare. Our minds flickered and pushed to focus every bit of energy on finishing the task. But my attitude shifted. If he could pray, so could I. If he could cheer himself on, so could I. Being with him in the hollow hours of the night gave me the constitution to keep going. His presence and his attitude wore off on me, like the paint smudging our knuckles. I learned a little about how to cheer myself on, within the privacy of my own head, and the bounds of my own marriage.
“Walk with the wise and become wise,
for a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22
“…Yet we urge you… to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” 1Thessalonians 10-12