Before you can start building and restoring, you have to get rid of the trash. Removing debris is the necessary first step in the restoration process as demonstrated by Nehemiah; but what is the “debris” found in the heart and mind of a devastated person or group?
Think about it. When sin has done its evil work, what’s left?
Broken hearts and relationships are scattered about. Decayed or rotting behaviors—those things once life enhancing and positive–are now putrid and defiled. Shattered beliefs that were once cherished and foundational are no longer useful in the pain of the whole sordid mess. New, ugly mindsets left behind by sin will be present; a toxic waste that must be immediately removed. You will never receive or bring restoration until these things are sorted out.
The good news is that there is a way to go about cleaning up; that’s what this book is all about. Cleaning up always starts with repentance. The glorious thing about the work of Christ is that the stain of sin is never permanent. The effects and impact of bad decisions may hang around for a long time, but the opportunity to have a fresh start is always present. Tomorrow is another day.
The problem facing most would-be restoration projects is that we’ve never been taught exactly how to repent and why it is so important to do so. Let’s fix that here and in the next two sections—learn these lessons well and you will be in a strong position to be a restorer. Here is a four-step model to get you started:
First, as hard as it will be, look at the mess. I mean take a really good, hard, thorough look. Yes, it’s ugly but necessary if you want to clean things up. It’s like cleaning out your basement; you should pull everything out into the light of day, examine what’s there, and then decide what to keep and what to throw away. In restoration cleanup, look at those relationships that have been damaged—and those that should have never been allowed. Note the behaviors that were once positive and constructive but have been left corrupted. Examine the beliefs once held that were abandoned or damaged during the season of sin. Closely look at mindsets that were developed during the dark times. Make two lists—the broken things that need to be kept, and the negative things that need to be discarded.
Second, assess the severity of the items on the lists. For the things to be repaired, some will be more broken than others and thus harder to fix. On the list of items to throw out, some behaviors will need to go faster than others. For example, in the case of adultery, the damage done to the marital relationship will be much more difficult to restore than the once-positive-but-no-longer-practiced behavior of daily devotionals. Your former belief in righteous conduct will be much more quickly restored than your belief in yourself. As for sin-induced discards, you must stop seeing that person with whom you were committing the adultery before you quit taking the anti-anxiety medicine required by the whole affair. Now, take the list and assess the significance of every item, both good and bad. Sort the list in order of acuity with the least devastating things at the top. Better to make the easy fixes first, though you will really start on all of them at once, e.g., you will begin working on restoring the relationship with your spouse at the same time you stop seeing your former lover. Let me assure you that the latter will be accomplished much more quickly than the former.
Third, make a plan. Who are you going to approach for forgiveness, support, and accountability? Exactly what are you going to say and do to bring healing and wholeness into this mess? When are you going to start and where are you going to find the resources, relationships, and tools to bring it all about? How are you going to clean things up and restore those relationships, behaviors and beliefs that have utterly crumbled around you? These questions will be answered in the chapters of this book because the plan for restoration is perfectly spelled out in the work of Nehemiah.
The fourth step is easy—just work the plan you made. Chart your course and get on with it, staying true to the path you have laid out (you can probably see why restorers are needed—this can be a daunting task for a person still emotionally devastated by sin and its consequences). I say again; make the plan, work the plan. When you get overwhelmed by the task before you—and you almost surely will—let me give you a little motivator that I have found very helpful. Say this to yourself: Just do one thing.
You’re looking at this impossibly long and unreasonably difficult task list and you get so discouraged by the magnitude of what lays before you that you want to cry. Or sleep. You want to Not. Do. Anything. Depression arrives and motivation departs. The moment this happens, immediately go to the mirror and speak those words out loud: Just do one thing. Then go find something on that list—on any list—and do it. Even if it’s a list not directly related to the restoration process; something as simple as chore list like going to the grocery store, doing laundry, taking a walk. Do it. Force yourself. Momentum will build and you will find yourself improving every day. Anything on the list that has multiple parts may need to be broken down into those parts, e.g., you may do your laundry one, slow load at a time (washing, drying, and folding are three distinct steps). That’s okay; you will rebuild your marriage the exact same way. Do one thing, even if it takes multiple steps. Just do one thing. This will change your life and the lives of those you will be helping.
I suggest your re-read this chapter. Then read it again. Read it until you have your lists and you’re your mind is filled with “Just do one thing.” At that point, you will be well on your way to cleaning things up. Once you are there, you can focus on the process of starting to build.