Trapped between the easy way out and the proper way through, I stood looking at the tree. Trouble was brewing last season when one section of lights on our pre-lit tree refused to glow. It was easy to call an audible and add a string of lights because the problem was not detected until the tree was fully decorated. Sorry—not sorry—but I was NOT going to mess with it.
As we assembled the tree this year, we discussed the burned-out section of the tree and how we were going to mitigate the issue. It wasn’t until we plugged in the tree that we noticed only one section of lights was still glowing. In the course of being boxed and stored, several of the other 400 lights decided to give up the fight. It was a sad affair. As we saw it, we had two options. We could string new lights over the existing ones, or we could deconstruct the pre-lit strands and restring the tree.
I have a not going to mess with it mentality that sometimes shows up in questioning if the process is worth the investment. This was definitely one of those moments. Have you seen the way lights are secured on pre-lit trees? There were so many anchors securing the lights on every branch, so removing the lights was going to be a process, and it would be such that changing my mind in the middle of it would not be possible.
My options were plain. The easy path would be to add new strings of lights over the existing ones. This paralleled the way I had handled some of life’s greatest challenges. When something stopped working, I added more things on top of the problem. If the friendship became sour, I added a new friend to the mix. When the loneliness knocked, I started a new tv series and binged episodes until the feeling dulled. Adding to the top of a problem–instead of dealing with the root of the problem–winds up created more troubles.
The harder decision would be to painstakingly remove every plastic anchor on every branch and remove the lights. I would have to commit to getting on the floor and rolling up my sleeves until every branch had been touched. The other way out seemed to provide a quick solution, but I knew removing the strands would be a lasting one. Going branch by branch would likely uncover other issues I had not noticed before, so it would give me an opportunity to address the totality of the problem. Removing things requires intentional, focused work.
The problem with adding strands of lights on top of the burned-out lights is that my eye would gravitate toward the old bulbs. The blacked out bulbs would remind me that the problem still existed, and the temporary fix still required a long-term solution. It would not be as aesthetically pleasing as removing the strands and starting over.
How many times have we tried to build something beautiful on top of a crumbling foundation?
While I cannot speak for you, I know I have a tendency to add things on top of existing problems more times that I care to admit. I prefer the easy way out, and I am inclined to avoid the painstaking work of removing what is broken before attempting to rebuild.
Some seasons may require us to add new things on top of broken hearts. When I went through a painful custody battle, I could not adequately tend to all that was fractured at once. I added new routines on top of old patterns as a means of survival. That was grace in the moment. Once the dust of the courtrooms and long nights of sorrow began to settle, I began to tend to the rubble little by little. I had to scoop out the broken pieces to make sure I was building my life on a solid foundation.
If we attempted to frame a new house on top of boulders, our construction project would be shut down. The house would be unstable and subject to further destruction. This was the image in my head as I moved from branch to branch removing the original lights. My shoulders ached, my fingertips felt rough from the texture of synthetic tree fibers, and I wanted to change my mind. I stuck it out with the help of my husband, and the result was a beautiful tree. We added more lights than we anticipated [I always thought it needed more lights], and the glow provided a sweet visual of how tending to problems gets messy before it gets beautiful.
To the person who feels like things are not quite how you’d pictured, take heart. Put in the time, tend to the details, and create a new path forward. Deconstruction may seem counterintuitive but getting rid of what no longer works provides space for what can and will. The process will be hard, but the result is worth the investment.