When your mind is in the gutter…

I won’t lie to you. Ever. Seriously. I’ll always be honest even when its not comfortable. And yesterday held a few moments of discomfort for me. Its been raining pretty hard on a couple occasions recently and I noticed that a certain section of gutter was completely overflowing and dropping a long line of rain water, creating a trench near the foundation of our house.

Not good.

So I knew something had to be done or eventually the gutter issue would become a foundation issue. The problem? This particular gutter was about 28 feet in the air. Have I mentioned my aversion to tall ladders? (Quick shout out to my friend Martin who had the very ladder I needed to get the job done.) So I hauled myself over to his house, borrowed this monstrosity of an extension ladder, leaned it against my house FULLY EXTENDED and stared at it.

Tip #1 when needing to clean your gutters: Staring does nothing. So I invited my wife to be my trusted Ladder Holder and I got to the task at hand. Deep breath. As I ascended she shared her advice, “Just don’t look down. Or left.” Got it. The problem was that I wanted to make sure that every rung of the ladder actually existed and that my size 13 shoes were landing squarely on each aforementioned rung. So with each step, I did what my wife thought it best NOT to do: I looked down. Three-fourths of the way up this thing I could feel the air thinning. I was at altitude now and my breathing reminded me of that. I was one or two rungs from being where I needed to be. And I stopped. For a split second (or several dozen), I thought to myself, “Nope. I can’t do it.” Even though my wife was planted on the ground, holding firmly to the ladder, in my mind the ladder was on fire, on one ice skate, barely gripping the ice that perched on the edge of a cliff. How did thin ice get to the edge of a cliff? How did the ladder get on fire? Where did the ice skate come from? Why would you ask me that when I’m surely about to die?

But then something happened. It was nothing. Nothing happened. Not the Nothing the Rock Biter warned Atreyu about in The Never Ending Story, but a nothing that showed me that everything was okay. So I took those last few steps up the ladder and found myself face to face with the clogged gutter.

I could see immediately that it was completely full of water. I was well within reach of the downspout, so I reached my hand into the soggy muck and pushed my finger into the mushy contents of my gutter. Immediately, I could hear a *whoooosh* and a torrent of 400 year old leaves, twigs and stale water were taken by gravity’s pull down to earth and out the other end of that downspout. And there was a deep joy in watching all that muck and water empty onto the ground, several thousand feet below me. As I stood there a while watching the gutter empty, I thought of something. Several somethings actually. Definitely not nothing.

First of all, I thought about the trek I had made to get to the issue. Each step up that ladder grew more and more uncomfortable. But each step also took me closer to the issue that wasn’t going to resolve itself. You know right now what the next rung of your ladder is. Don’t dare let anyone or anything stop you from taking it. Sure its uncomfortable. But its what’s next.

Next, there are times when its important to stop and notice the nothing. When I stood on the ground looking up at that fully extended ladder thinking I needed to get to the top, I had a feeling this would be my last day on earth. But then nothing happened. What is it in your mind that you’re giving waaaay too much strength to, simply by thinking about it as much as you do? Worry is an investment that never pays any dividends, yet we still keep pumping our resources into it. Worry is a broke system of crisis management that will never work. Worry is staring (and fretting) at a knot in a rope and thinking that’ll untie it. Worry says to God, “You’re not big enough, loving enough, wise enough, or strong enough so I have to carry this situation on my own.” Worry is idolatry because it places something or someone above God in my heart and mind. What do you need to do in order to stop and realize that the fear you’ve been letting keep you captive is a wet tissue masquerading as a brick wall?

Third–and please stick with me here–its very likely that the issue you’re facing right now doesn’t call for a rocket-science level of complex intellect in order to resolve it. It probably just needs you to be willing to push your finger through some mush. Of course its going to be gross; its mush. Of course you’d rather just sit there and let it stagnate. Of course looking away is easier. That’s why people live in denial. But what if you were willing to simply address the clogged gutter of your own spiritual stagnation? What if you decided you weren’t going to let that undeveloped habit or unmet goal sit there and taunt you any longer? What if today and every day you simply straightened your spine and stuck your finger through that soggy mess? Identify what it is for you and then get to poking.

Lastly, I thought about the next rain. I thought about how when those raindrops pelt my roof and make their way down the shingles and into the gutter, there’d be nothing to stop them from finding their way to the downspout and out of the gutter. I had a sense of satisfaction and dare I say peace in knowing that because I faced the task, found the clog, and cleared the way, that I didn’t have to worry about the foundation.

And let’s wrap up there. Let’s say I let that clogged gutter stay clogged. Let’s say I watched as the overflow of that rainwater continued to dig a trench at the foundation of our home. Eventually, the foundation would have given way for lack of support. All because I refused to climb a ladder, push some mush, and clear a gutter. I don’t think I’m overstating a truth here. If you don’t identify the clog in your own heart it’ll continue to eat away at your foundation. Whether its mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual; look for the signs and track it down. Do the work of unclogging that blockage and reap the benefits of peace knowing that things are again flowing as they should.

Listen, I’m not a licensed counselor. I’m just a guy who climbed a ladder and cleared a gutter. But if there’s something you plan on doing (stopping, starting, or changing) after reading this, I’d love to know about it. Send me an email or let me know in the comment section.

If you’d like to dig into some scripture that speaks about this more (not gutters per se), then take a look at these:

  • Luke 12:15-31
  • 2 Timothy 1:7
  • Hebrews 12:11
  • 1 Corinthians 9:25-27