Couple renovating a house together

What Fixing Up Our House Taught Me About Character Building

“I hope we’ll enjoy this process,” my husband said, after we had just finished discussing our initial plans for the renovation of our flat.

“Yeah, me too. The last thing I want is for us to fight over this,” I said. “I mean, at the end of the day, it’s just a house.”

Except when it’s not. Suddenly, everything that didn’t look the way I had envisioned became a huge eyesore. Like a pipe behind the toilet that couldn’t be covered up because it was not advisable. Or how the kitchen cabinets had to be uneven to accommodate the different aspects of the room.

Most of our fights started because of these petty details, and the way they snowballed often blindsided me. One minute I’m “just expressing my frustration” (“This fan is terrible, it’s not giving any wind at all”), the next minute my husband has gone all quiet, and I now have to ask, “What’s wrong? What did I say?”


Getting Triggered

One recurring strain in our fights was my not liking the way the designer communicated. I often found her tone abrasive, and whenever something could not be done, her first response would usually be, “no cannot”, without any explanations. Seeing her message would immediately trigger my temper, and while I would refrain from replying to her, I would complain to my husband about how unhelpful this “can’t do” attitude is.

Over time, my frustration took a toll on us, especially on my husband, who was exhausted from having to constantly play “mediator” between me and the designer.

One night, after I had gotten upset again about something, he eventually said, “You can’t really expect her to anticipate every hiccup and resolve every problem, can you? No one’s perfect. Can we not be more understanding and forgiving?” Hearing these words woke me up and made me realise that I was being unreasonable and unforgiving in my expectations.

Reflecting on the way I reacted, I’m beginning to see why the Apostle James said: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19-20). Every time I had been quick to speak, it was always the irritation and anger speaking for me. On the very rare occasions I managed to keep quiet, it gave me time and space to calm down so I could listen hard to my husband when he was trying to help me gain perspective.

Our fights also led me to recognise the way I communicated versus how my husband would like me to communicate. Being what some might call a “Negative Nelly” (or maybe a “Karen”), I would often look through the house to spot whatever needs fixing, then I’d say, “Why does it look like this?”, rather than “How can we fix this to look better?” To me, they were effectively the same thing, but to my husband, the latter would’ve been better.

It was only during our “final” fight when my husband finally shared, gently as he could, that he had turned moody after my “feedback” because he felt disheartened that that was all I had to say.

It was then that I saw how I was guilty of doing the very thing that would make me feel discouraged—constant criticism and a lack of appreciation.

Considering how easily I become crestfallen when receiving negative feedback, why did it never occur to me that my husband would also feel the same way? As much as I loved receiving words of affirmation for my efforts, why did I not realise that my husband would need and deserve the same?

Since then, I’ve learned to be more specific and effusive whenever I thank him for something—to not just carelessly say, “Thanks for doing all this!”, but be more intentional in my thanks: “Thank you for taking the extra effort to call, research, and get this particular problem fixed, I really appreciate it.”


Not Getting What I Want

As I thought about why I became frustrated and angry so many times along the way, I had to ask myself some hard questions:

Why does it irritate me so much when something doesn’t turn out the way I wanted?

Why does it frustrate me when my husband “nitpicks” the way I say things?

And why am I so resistant to changing the way I speak, and so insistent that “This is just the way I am”?

What was it that I really wanted, and what were my motives for these wants? (James 4:1-3)

I wanted our house to look perfect so that every cent we spent would be justified, and people would be impressed by how lovely the house is, and how “smart” we were to have accomplished this.

I wanted the designer to be nice and good at communicating, to anticipate everything I wanted, and to have a solution for every problem—even though I’m not always nice and good at communicating, I don’t even know all my wants, and I’m also not good at troubleshooting when there’s a problem.

I wanted my husband to let me stay mad when I was mad, even when I knew that staying mad was unhealthy and not right. I wanted him to let me “be myself” by saying things however I liked, and to always assume I don’t mean anything bad, even when I’m being overly critical.

For the most part, I let my displeasure turn into anger. When something didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, instead of simply expressing disappointment, I blamed the designer for her “incompetence”. It was easier to blame because it made me feel like things would be different with someone more competent, as opposed to having to accept an imperfect situation.

Then there was complaining: instead of seeing the many things to be thankful for, I chose to get hung up on the parts I didn’t like. The perfectionist in me was stuck on an “all-or-nothing” mindset—if something isn’t perfect, then it’s just not done right; it’s haphazard, it’s just not good enough.

As I unearth these wants and motives, I wince at how foolish and self-centred they sound. I see how I had completely lost perspective on what our house should’ve been (should be) about—not a vanity project to showcase how clever and competent we are, but a blessing from God that we’re meant to steward well and use to bless others. A lavish gift that I’m not entitled to, any more than I deserve all that God has already given me.

So what if we end up with a nice house? How can I pray to honour God with this house, if I had done so poorly and dishonoured Him with my behaviour during the renovation?


Seeing My Worst Means Seeking Forgiveness

This is the point where it becomes tempting for me to withdraw in shame and fall into self-flagellation. Yet as God firmly reminds me, the only good response to make is to crawl back to His grace:

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
but shows favour to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:6-8).

Where I find myself at my worst, God gives me more grace by reminding me that there’s no limit to how many times I can repent and seek His forgiveness. He has been gracious and merciful to discipline me (Hebrews 12:4-13) by convicting me with His word, speaking through my husband’s gentle rebuke, and even letting me experience the unhappiness that’s resulted from my wilful selfishness.

And He assures me that if I would humble myself and confess my sins, He will show me favour—He will look at me with kindness and make me right before Him again.

Lord, forgive me for the self-centredness and unkindness in my heart; for forgetting that all I have now is all grace undeserved. Help me to let go of my superficial wants and submit myself to You.

It’s been more than a month since we’ve moved into our new home, and honestly, I don’t really notice most of the “blemishes” that drove me crazy during the renovation process. My husband and I are relieved that the hard part is over, and are happy to not only have our own home, but to be able to invite people over and deepen the bonds of our friendships.

Working on this project with my husband has taught me how important it is to keep practising listening to each other. For me, this means learning to temporarily set aside my personal wants and ask thoughtful questions so I can hear what’s on his heart.

I’ve found what it means that “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1): that when one of us makes the first move to soften our voice and stance, it usually prompts the other person to soften as well and become more receptive to listen.

Throughout this process, I’m most convicted by the truth that being a child of God means I’m meant to value people (who are created in His image) more than material things, and so whatever I do or say must come from a place of love, and must draw from the love that can only be found in Him.

The house is done, but the character building in me has to continue. I wish I could say that I’ll be better, but I know that sooner or later, sin will rear its ugly head again.

Yet there is encouragement to persevere, because God has promised that He will not leave His work in me unfinished (Philippians 1:6). I pray to have a heart that remains soft and yielding (Psalm 51:17), that will keep submitting to His correction and training in my life.

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