I recently helped a friend paint a wall in his room. When he moved into the house a few months ago, he thought he wanted to change the color of his bedroom, so he painted samples of different colors onto his wall to try them out. It was a great idea, but it turned out that he liked the original color best, so he needed to paint that single wall the same color to cover up the other swatches.
Now, I’m always up for an adventure, so somehow I was easily shanghaied into this. I quickly learned it was quite the endeavor. Our first item of business was to go to the hardware store to get the tools he didn’t already have. I never knew there were different types of rollers for distinct surfaces or that there were different depths of rollers. As it turns out, not all walls are created equal.
Then came the preparation. The furniture was shifted to the opposite side of the room, squashed tighter than a game of Tetris. We carefully laid painter’s tape along the baseboards, the trim around both doors, the ceiling, and the opposing walls. We almost forgot to cover the air conditioning vent, the electrical outlets, and the light switch, but those too were eventually painstakingly covered. Then the drop cloth was shaken out and gently squashed it against the wall, taped in some areas so as to make sure the carpet was completely covered. Looking back, I think the preparation took longer than the actual painting.
At last we had reached the moment we had been waiting for: the painting itself. My friend opened the paint can that had been left in the garage before he moved in, poured it into the little painting pan thing, and the painting began. It was a fun process, but as I painted more and more of the wall, I realized it looked pretty uneven. In fact, it looked pretty terrible. After we finished the wall, there were splotches of dark paint right next to paint that seemed twelve shades lighter, alongside another swatch of dark wall. I didn’t want to say anything to my friend, but I was a bit concerned at how bad it looked. I knew the recently painted wall would look darker than the three other walls, but was it supposed to look that much darker? I stepped back another few feet, my back against the wall, hoping that some distance might make it look cohesive.
Nope, no such luck.
We decided to meet up with some friends and give the wall some time to dry. It was probably a good idea to get away from the paint fumes, too, now that I think about it. As we hung out with our friends, I forgot all about the wall, only remembering from time to time when I looked down and saw green paint splotches on the back of my hands.
Eventually it was time to face the music. We wound up back at his house, and I don’t know about him, but I was holding my breath as he opened the door into his room. I haven’t painted in at least two decades, so I didn’t have enough of a sample size to know if the paint job would magically come together. We turned on the light, stepped back, and immediately breathed a sigh of relief. The wall looked absolutely perfect. The paint had dried evenly and the newly painted wall matched the other walls beautifully. A few days later after my friend had put all the furniture back where it was supposed to be and hung a few pictures, he let me know that he loved how the room looked.
I was thinking about this the other day and realized that’s kind of how life is, too. Sometimes we never know how (or even if) the different walls are going to come together and match. At times, we may feel like our lives are like the wall as it was drying: a mess, completely unorganized, and something that someone else is going to have to come and fix. We may feel like that poor wall looked at this point: a misfit that doesn’t belong.
But the beauty of life is that where we see a period, it’s often a comma. Or heck, even a semicolon for some of those darker times that seem to last far too long. Regardless of the punctuation mark in use, what we think is the ending very rarely actually is. It took a little bit of faith, hope, the ability to step back, and some patience for us to come to see that finished wall as the beautiful thing it became. Yet too often, we fail to give ourselves the space for those things in our own lives.
I was reminded of this recently. As I was walking around campus one afternoon, I was delighted to discover that someone (or many someones) had chalked up campus with positive and uplifting messages. My favorite was, “After every sunset comes a sunrise.” I found it to be a beautiful reminder that no matter how dark this day may be, tomorrow brings a new day, full of hope, love, and new adventures to be had.
To me, the last half of 2018 felt very much like the process of painting that wall. I was preparing to make a change, getting ready for it, and then I made the change and it quickly felt a lot like how that poor wall looked: a complete and utter mistake that couldn’t be undone fast enough. During this time, an angel arrived in my life in the form of a new friend. Out of nowhere one day, she gave me a framed quotation by one of my favorite people, Bob Goff. It says, “Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.”
Thinking about that gave me hope. Amidst all the unknown, I can stand firm in one known constant: the sun will rise tomorrow. And with that new sunrise comes another 24 hours with which I can continue to forge forward and trust that eventually, the walls will dry and those messy, unorganized chapters will each have a name.