We would occasionally play a game at the dinner table. I would pick up a bottle of ketchup (for example) and ask, “How many people did it take to get this ketchup to us?”
We would start with the obvious — the farmer and tomato pickers, the grocery store employees. Later we would get to those like the people who mined the metals to make the axels for the trucks that carried the tomatoes, material for the bottles, and ketchup to the places they needed to go. Of course, the answer was impossible to even estimate.
What we did learn was to appreciate all the different jobs it takes to make something so simple as a bottle of ketchup on our table possible. Each one of those jobs represented a person and a family like ours.
Another game we would play would be to ask what needed to happen for us to flip a switch and the lights come on. We could then talk about all the things in the house that we can’t see as well as all the people needed to make something amazingly complex as simple as flipping a switch.
Our physical lives are full of infrastructure, all that stuff underground or hidden behind beautiful or at least respectable façades, that make driving, shopping, cooking, banking, and learning much easier and more efficient than it would be otherwise.
It would drive us to distraction if we thought about what we can’t see every time we did something. That is the nature of infrastructure. It is built so that we do not have to think about it, until the road gets a pothole, or the power goes out.
Good infrastructure makes life flow and reduces friction that slows us down. Poor infrastructure creates stress, delays, and expense. But it is not cheap. Depending upon the project it takes years of planning and building — which is why we often complain about the years it takes to build or improve roads.
There are other things we can’t see as well. The obvious are those things that we miss because we are not looking. Those devices that we still call phones have made it nearly impossible for some people to see even what is right in front of them. There is a cost to this for all of us.
There are also those things we can’t see because we have not trained our eyes to see them. Do we see a rock face, or geological history? Do we see a goal scored in soccer, or do we see the build up and strategy that made it possible? Do we see a Bible in English, or do we see the years of study and discussion that made it easy for us to access?
The world is overwhelmingly full of beauty and terror for those eyes that have the interest to learn to see. The world is amazingly complex even in the simplest of plants or animal interactions. The first clear word a human being says takes months at a minimum. And full coherent sentences take years of listening and watching and care.
Our spiritual lives are no different in this way than our physical surroundings. Think of our spiritual lives as our infrastructure. These are the hidden things that determine how well we function in the physical world. If the infrastructure is sound life has a flow and rhythm to it that makes doing the right things easier. There will be storms that do damage, but a solid foundation and infrastructure can be built to withstand most storms.
There is a price. It takes time and discipline. It takes doing massive amounts of digging and preparation that few will see or appreciate — until the storm hits. What others cannot see are the most important things we will do.
This is what Jesus said at the conclusion of “The Sermon on the Plain” in Luke 6:43-49. “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”