Three times a week, I drive the same route home from preschool drop-off—roughly the same path a disastrous tornado came through our town a year ago. I steer my minivan around the familiar curves and crane my neck to view the houses most devastated by the storm.
The tornado hit the first house the hardest, and images of its broken rafters and gaping holes were broadcast on national television. Soon after, they bulldozed the house to the ground, and like a child’s conspicuous missing tooth, the lot remains empty.
Three work trucks are parked in the driveway of the home behind the vacant lot. Crews have worked on this house every week for the last year. First removing debris, then replacing the roof, but the exterior of the house remains unfinished. I cringe at the mismatch of the new stone façade with the fading red brick on the side. The modern front porch decking clashes with the dated beige wood paneling on the top floor of the split level. I press the brakes to get a better look and shake my head. It looks worse than before.
Across the street sits the house which has taken the longest to recover. Blue tarps on the roof shone bright last summer, rippled with the fall breeze, and faded through winter before they were finally stripped off like an old bandage a month ago. It grieves me to see this family’s home still laying in disrepair. The trees lean, debris litters the yard, and work trucks park in the driveway where kids’ bikes once lay askew.
Every day I drive past, watching them replace rafters, lay down plywood, and nail the shingles to the roof, and I wonder where the families are. Did they grow weary of the lengthy insurance process and move on to a new house? Have they lived in a rental for a year, anxious for the day they can return home? How long will it take for this neighborhood to rebuild?
One Wednesday night after youth group, I passed my lime green teen study Bible to the leader. Despite becoming a Christian a decade earlier, I had only begun recently to read the Bible for myself. Much of my knowledge of scripture had previously been secondhand, and the more nuanced and less popular passages quickly confused me. I had been reading the first chapter of 1 Peter when I’d circled a few words and written question marks in the margin.
“I don’t understand these verses,” I pointed to the middle of the page. “Can you explain them?”
He took my Bible and read aloud from 1 Peter 1:1–2. I noticed him wince when he reached the highlighted words. I expound on my confusion, “What does it mean to be elect and chosen? How does God’s foreknowledge work?”
As a teenager, I had no clue I was wading into waters that theologians have debated for decades. Having grown up with flannel boards and VeggieTales, I didn’t know gray areas of doctrine existed. I just hoped one of my spiritual leaders could answer my questions.
I waited while he looked at the Bible for a minute, “Don’t worry about it,” he responded. “It’s not that important.”
My jaw dropped. I was no Bible scholar, but I knew something had to be off in his answer. The same teacher who had taught me all scripture was God-breathed was telling me these few verses didn’t matter. I felt embarrassed and confused, but I wasn’t sure who else I could go to for answers.
He snapped the Bible shut and handed it back to me before returning to his office. I had gone to him with questions (unknowingly) about the doctrine of salvation, but what I gained implicitly was a doctrine of doubt. Whether he meant to or not, he taught me my hard questions were not welcome within the church.
I lacked the courage to mention the questions plaguing my mind again until the spring semester of my freshman year in college. Crippled by doubts about my salvation and desperate to talk to someone, I invited my new small group leader to meet me at the campus coffee shop. I tested the waters at first—sipping my latte and hinting at my struggles with salvation.
Without batting an eye, she took on the burden of my doubts. She presented the different biblical perspectives to my queries, but then pushed the inquiries back to me. “You have to read the Bible for yourself and decide what you believe,” she gestured to the Bible in my hands. “But I’m always here for you to talk.”
Rather than shame and uncertainty, I felt freedom and hope to finally confront my doubts. If she wasn’t shocked by my questions, maybe God wasn’t either. I kept asking her more questions—about purity, about legalism, even about end-time theology—any and every curiosity that had flickered across my mind during my fifteen years as a believer. With each reservation, she graciously pointed me back to scripture and the Spirit inside me.
Surprised at receiving encouragement rather than condemnation over my doubts, I freely dove into my Bible like never before. I took truths I had believed since childhood, examined them alongside scripture, and came out with a greater love of the Father than I ever had before.
I realized God never expected me to build a Christian life on my own. Rather, he sent his Son—a builder—to help me construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct a faith set firmly on him as my foundation.
As a child in Sunday School, I learned about Jesus’s parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7 through a catchy tune:
The wise man built his house upon the rock.
The rains came down and the floods came up
But the house on the rock stood firm.
The foolish man built his house upon the sand.
The rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the sand fell flat.
It’s a simple parable, easy to apply, so it seems. We obviously want to be the wise builder in Jesus’s parable “who hears these words of [his] and does them.” We listen to more sermons, study more apologetics, and memorize more Bible verses, all so we can set a firm foundation for our faith.
Yet I’ve found we as Christians often build our house on mixed soil—the gospel plus something else. Maybe it’s legalism, nationalism, or any other “ism” that creeps into our cultural Christianity. Then the rain comes: we experience spiritual trauma, encounter a persuasive belief contrary to ours, or our spiritual leaders fall hard off their pedestal. We’re shocked when the house we thought we built on solid rock was actually built on a weaker foundation. The faith we once cherished now has cracking walls and missing shingles.
Storms have ravaged our culture, especially Christian culture, in the past few years. When doubt and hurt shook the very core of my faith, I had a choice in how to rebuild. I could tear my faith to the ground, never to return. Yet this would leave me homeless with the weight of emptiness.
I could also pretend nothing happened. I could conceal my doubts with new stone and fresh paint, but my weakened faith would rot underneath. With each storm, more doubt would crack until my house becomes unlivable, and I’m faced with leaving altogether.
Neither tearing down nor covering up are the path of the wise builder in Jesus’s parable.
Instead, I can confront the fissures of my faith and return to its foundation. It takes longer to rebuild, to investigate where the sand has weakened my foundation. I uncover the lies, the cultural compromises, and the idols. It’s embarrassing. It’s hard. It’s the kind of work I fear.
Both leaving the faith altogether or allowing the crevices in our faith to widen are both foolish and disastrous. However, the wise person builds—or rebuilds—on the solid foundation of Christ, “the founder and perfector of our faith.”
I’m driving home again from preschool and passing that third house when something new catches my eye. The skeleton of an addition juts out into the large backyard. I stop the car in surprise. They’re doubling the size of the house! I survey the butter yellow siding encasing the new structure. I can’t help but smile.
The house which has taken the longest to rebuild will truly be the grandest in the neighborhood. Instead of covering up with fresh paint and new shingles, they stripped it down to the bones. They replaced the rotting wood and stabilized the weakened foundation. They put in new windows and fresh drywall. Soon, bikes will sunbathe in the yard, a minivan will pull into the newly constructed garage, and a family will return to something even better than before that dark April afternoon.
It gives me hope. If they can rebuild, I can too.
Cover Image by Avel Chuklanov.