The construction

My pastor is often saying that he is like an unfinished house. Out of context, it may sound a little weird, but it deserves to be looked at with more depth. To better understand, it is necessary to visualize the image he uses and clarify a few things. This is certainly a quite seldom phenomenon in some Western countries, but in my country of origin, Côte d’Ivoire, constructions are likely to stop and remain interrupted for years and even in the middle of the city. It is already very particular in itself but what is even more surprising is that in most cases the work resumes after a relatively long time and as if nothing ever happened, once the necessary funds have been raised, the initial project redesigned, or even once the ownership of the land has been « returned » to its true owner.

Once these few prerequisites are established, I think it is already a little easier to grasp this idea of an unfinished house. Indeed, the concept showcased by my spiritual father with this image, and with which I agree myself, is the fact that whatever appearances, no matter how long it takes, what we are called to, God’s plan for each of us will come to pass. Automatically, a whole bunch of questions, even criticisms, rise together like the shields of a Roman legion in front of the barbaric invasion that this concept represents for some people.

« Fate? But what is fate and if there is any, what about our free will?”, or, « If there is a god, and he lets so many tragedies happen on Earth, why hoping in his plan without even knowing if it is good or bad for me? », and even, “That is where all the problems of our society lie! Preference for passivity and alienation of our very real life to an imaginary god, instead of perseverance and rational thought to make things happen”. Maybe none of these sentences crossed your mind but believe me this is the case for many others: I have heard them often enough to confirm this to you.

The first thing I can say while facing such questioning is that once we put aside the idea of an almighty God who loves us above all, it is impossible to understand what I am talking about. It is like two people striking up a conversation in different languages, without one being able to speak the other’s own. In the present case, this language is the language of love, the one that is spoken throughout the Bible, in its darkest passages as its most enlightened, in its most boring chapters as its most thrilling ones. I can always be told that it is easy and usual for Christians to sweep away the question of the existence of our God by this kind of condition. For my part I just consider that this is another issue to which I am not the most qualified to answer and for which I consider having the chance that faith allows me to answer it, perhaps not rationally yet to answer it anyway. In the present days some have chosen to do it rationally, or at least to try, just as many others have done it before. Blaise Pascal, in the 17th century, proposed with his Wager an interesting reflection, based on a probabilistic approach, even related to the gambling register, which allows anyone to get an idea of what one loses and what one gains to believe or not to believe. Indeed, quite plainly, and perhaps even a bit too much, Pascal tried to show that we all have an interest in believing in God, whether God exists or not. For him, if God does not exist, the believer and the non-believer draw. However, if God exists, the believer is victorious because he accesses paradise for eternity, while the non-believer as for him loses because he is excluded from it, also for eternity. Simple but effective, and very questionable. But let’s go back to the main topic, because my idea was precisely not to get involved in that issue, but only to specify that others have done it, in case you are interested.

Indeed, as for me, I rather accepted to give in, without any rational proof or scientific guaranty and despite my rather formal professional background and personality, to this God who according to his word has always loved me and that even before I came into this world. People often speak about a leap of faith; I would rather call it a love story. Even though it is comparable in some aspects, I don’t think of it much as a romance but rather as a filial love, this for different reasons that we can mainly find in the Bible. Indeed, there we can read a definition of faith that is both precise and disconcerting: « Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see ». For a long time, those few words disturbed me, blocked me, even lost me, yet it is something altogether quite simple, and it is still in the same book, a few pages before, that Jesus gives one of the most important clues that allows to unravel the mystery of this sentence. « Let the little children come unto me, and do not prevent them from doing so; for the kingdom of God is for those who are like them. I tell you in truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a small child will not enter it, » he firmly said to his disciples. It is when we finally accept, to return to this infant state of trust, dependence and even vulnerability that we can embrace all the meaning of this definition and at the same time begin the wonderful journey that God proposes us to do with him. The one through which he actually makes us stronger, less dependent on the things of this world, and ever more assured of his benevolent presence.

It is no longer a question of the absolute importance of our choices, our desires, our will, but of something greater – and much more beautiful.

Nevertheless, a journey is maybe not the right name because journey means a point of origin and a destination, while here both the point of origin and the destination are the same: God. It is more about a project in fact, the project of a lifetime, even a construction project. A construction where the work, the building, is each of us. The client, the original contracting authority and the one who will receive the finished project, is God. The general contractor, who carries out this project, is still God. Far from being at the center of this endeavor, we are only its material, which may seem somewhat simplistic and frustrating at first. It is no longer a question of the absolute importance of our choices, our desires, our will, but of something greater – and much more beautiful. Yes, when we understand that it is indeed God who is at the center, both for his greatest glory but also for our greatest happiness, we enter into all the power and beauty of this simple idea proposed by my pastor, that of a house under construction that will inevitably be completed to become a perfect, unique and priceless home; even if in the present moment it is far from resembling it, even if the obstacles and circumstances sometimes play all together against its realization. Once again, the key to this project, its starting point, is this love story, between a child, the one who can be found in each of us, and a Father, who has been waiting so long for us to let him build us up, to let him be with us, to let him love us.

The 3 princes

Once upon a time, in a kingdom at peace but with a more than unpredictable future, a king was feeling his time had arrived and was worried about the succession to the throne.
Indeed, having three sons, seemingly identical triplets but with radically different personalities, he was forced to choose which of the princes would be able to defend the kingdom in front of the adversities looming on the horizon. Such an important choice had to be objective, but the idea of choosing according to his fatherly preferences was tempting. Each of them of course had his own qualities and defects, but, like any parent, the king had in his heart an order of preference.

The first, the prince who loved the hard facts, just like his father. He was gifted with his hands to build all kinds of things. From a piece of wood, he was able to shape a weapon, a tool or even a child’s toy. He was definitely a down-to-earth, sometimes cold, for him the strength of man lied in his hands and, if well used, with it he could overcome anything.
The second, the prince in love with nature, like his late mother. He was a hearty eater, knowing how to make the most delicious dishes from the fruits of the land. He was an optimist of all hours, a little naive, who believed in the power of nature and its indulgence, knowing how to respect and tame it, one could receive from it anything that man needs to live.
The third, the prince passionate about words and of whom the king did not know what to do. He did not get either from his mother or his father, his love of the beautiful poems that he spent days writing, and that he would then read in the streets of the city. He was a dreamer, a little lazy, he contented himself with taking life as it came, as long as he could share his poetry with others.

How to decide? Was he supposed to know, what his kingdom was going to need in the future and which of his sons would be the best to provide it to his people?
He finally found the solution: a trial requiring wisdom, perseverance and devotion to the kingdom. In the attic of the castle were three large abandoned rooms of identical sizes. Each prince would be given a room and a week to completely fill it with something that would be essential for the kingdom in times of crisis.
The first prince began to fill his room with logs. With the help of his many fellows: lumberjacks, cabinetmakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, he set about the massive cutting of wood in the forest and its transport to the castle.
The second prince began to fill his room with bags of wheat. Supported by his farming friends, millers and traders, he embarked on a major campaign of collection of most of the wheat available in the kingdom in exchange of the various products harvested on the royal lands.
And lastly, the third prince, as usual, continued to go for walks by the water, to tell his poems to passers-by, and to daydream for hours. But his room was remaining empty.

The end of the week approaching, and the hours going by, the void of the castle’s gloomy rooms gave way to an impressive pile of wood and wheat. The king saw with pride and excitement his sons scrambling to overcome this titanic trial and to obtain their right to ascend to the throne. But this was not true for the third prince and his room, which was still as empty as in the beginning of the trial. For the king it was sure, he could not count on this son to succeed him. All the week he could observe him spending idle afternoons in the castle’s gardens to observe in detail the fauna and flora, meddling in the street children’s games until the evening, or listening to the numerous endless memories of the oldest servant in the castle. Yet, not a hair had entered his room.

Finally, the « D-Day » had come. Until the last hour of the night, men and women worked hard to help the princes in their heavy task. But the time for the verdict had arrived and the king would have to give his final decision.
He opened the first prince’s room and found himself face to face with a wall of logs. The prince explained, for him, the strength of man was indeed in his hands but, still, he had to be healthy to use them: the winters being harsher and harsher in the kingdom, it would take wood to heat oneself and in large quantities. The king was conquered, but since he had to be objective and meticulous, he pressed one of the logs, and it went deep, completely dislocating the first pile. With disappointment the king announced his failure to his favorite: he had chosen a useful item, of course, but had not been able to fill the room as requested.
The king then passed to the second room, a bag of wheat fell to his feet as soon as the door opened. The second prince justified his choice: remembering that the last harvests had been meager and his feasts far less successful, he found his solution, people with full bellies meant a kingdom that was doing well. The king was proud of his son’s choice and work, but again he wanted to be sure of it before deciding. He was no longer very fit but found enough energy to remove a few bags and make his way to the ceiling of the room. Once he went down, he announced to the surprise of his second son that he had also failed: indeed his room contained an essential element but it was not full, due to the space left empty between the bags and the ceiling over the whole room.

In view of the situation and his attentive observation of the last prince, the king was already about to decide between the two others with a sword duel or a horse race. Still, he entered in the last room, unsurprisingly, empty and dark, just like his expression was. But without saying a word, the third prince entered in the windowless room where you couldn’t even see what he was up to in there. When suddenly a faint glow appeared and grew until it illuminated the whole room. The prince, whose childish smile was now visible, approached his father to put an end to the confusion his face was betraying. He clarified his decision. According to him, whatever difficulties the kingdom would face, it would need light. The light that makes children’s eyes shine, the light that warms the hearts of all, especially when they feel empty and useless, the light that is everywhere around us and in us, the light which, above all, must be shared. As a king, constantly maintaining this light in the realm would be his top priority, from that everything else would follow. The king, amazed and moved by his son’s words, had to admit that obviously the room once bathed in a thick darkness was now filled with the light projected by a simple oil lamp. He finally had a winner and he had found his successor.

And so, became the poet prince king, to everyone’s surprise but for everyone’s happiness – and for many years. With the help of his brothers, he guaranteed his kingdom peace and prosperity, a kingdom now called the Land of Light.

This article was inspired by a story heard on Jean-Louis Gaillard’s radio show « 365 Histoires ». I could not find the original story, so I allowed myself to tell it with my own words. If you want to find other stories like this, you can access the audio versions on this website for free and translated in many different languages, as well as the videos on this YouTube channel (in French only).