Journal

Contemplative Life

Christ, the load-bearing wall

Soren Johnson is on the board of Coracle, and in this short blog, he truthfully hits on the structure of a family. Soren shares how his ‘house’ is made, and nudges us to be mindful of what matters.  This entry was originally posted here, or you can continue reading:

Christ, the load-bearing wall

“Marriage is a load-bearing wall of society,” said a friend of mine, Anglican Rev. Tory Baucum, at a recent conference. His passing words lingered and stirred up memories.

Less than two years into our life together, my wife and I bought a nearly century-old abandoned house. Pregnant with our firstborn and renting a one-room efficiency, the pressure was on.

We gutted over half the house and — too stubborn to pay a general contractor — I took on the oversight of a sundry crew of electricians, plumbers and painters. My wife, graced with an eye for beauty and interior design, handed me the floor plans. In the ensuing months, I stumbled into new territory as a homeowner, husband and future father.

I quickly found that the sweltering summer days of demolition and framing out new walls were effortless when compared with the constant — sometimes daily — tasks of pulling permits or passing inspections. If the dozens of hours with city officials taught me anything, it was that my home had a given structure that I ignored at my own legal and bodily risk. A minor infraction early on cost me a day in court and a hefty fine. Later, while sledgehammering a wall, I knocked loose a lintel and went to the emergency room for stitches.

My home’s given structure had a core, and the city, that erstwhile defender of the common good, wasn’t going to let me forget it. Throughout the rehab, city inspectors would stroll through the front door unannounced. The floor molding and door knobs were immaterial. Instead, with scarcely a nod of greeting, the inspector would head directly to the central load-bearing wall, which supported the 20-foot-long oak floor joists. His pace would invariably slow as he walked the wall’s perimeter, tapping and probing as if it were a living thing.

Sure, “My home is my castle.” But I learned that my castle — as row house, in fact — was not only protecting the life of my family, but was also closely linked to my neighbors, the District of Columbia building codes, and of course, the City Water and Sewer Authority. Everyone seemed to have an interest in the integrity of my home.

I’ll never forget the solidity and symbol of that wall, which went on to bear the weight of our first three children, supporting our family’s early years as we struggled to coalesce and imagine what we might be able to contribute to the community around us. Years later as our second decade together unfolds, my wife and I have learned volumes, and at the same time, only one thing: Jesus Christ is the load-bearing wall in our marriage and family.

Every new “room” we build together — the birth of a child, the pursuit of a dream, a move, a new job — must rest on this wall. If not, the entire structure sags, or worse. The physics of it are as inviolable as the inspections I eventually passed. And it takes little time for my neighbors to register a hollowing out — or fortifying — of this wall. The more carefully we tend it, the more ready we are to play our role in supporting the community around us.

No official has yet stopped by to inspect this intimate core of our marriage. But on our good days, my wife and I strengthen it through individual prayer, reflection on Scripture, Mass, the family rosary, evening prayer as a couple, and offering up the million mundane tasks in between. These are the days when our pulse quickens and the ordinary is caught up and transfigured by grace.

Over the years, I have come to see my particular role — looking to St. Joseph, guardian of the Holy Family — as protector-in-chief of our family’s life of prayer.

It wasn’t always like this. For years, as we sporadically prayed the family rosary, I looked to my wife to call the kids and make it happen. After all, she loved the rosary from childhood. I could play second fiddle. In fact, I played the passive fool, as unseen foes moved in. Rather than sense that our friendship with Christ is the central and unfolding fact of our life together, my children, I’m afraid, likely thought of family prayer as a tiresome sideshow. Dad’s mind and heart seemed elsewhere.

The regret that I cannot travel back in time to awaken that man from slumber is being eclipsed by a gathering joy I am finding with my wife today. Ever more grateful for and mindful of the load-bearing wall that supports the widening arc of our family, I guard and tend the perimeter of this sacred, living thing.

St. Joseph, pillar of families and glory of family life, pray for us.

Johnson, a husband and father of five, leads evangelization efforts in the Arlington Diocese.

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