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Spirituality Essay:

Things You'll Never See    ( May 2011 )

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When I was building my house, my builder almost always left right after his workday was over - private time and family life were most important to him. Once in a while, though, he'd stay for an after-hours beer with me. How the house was coming along tended to be the usual focus of our conversation.

A neophyte at construction, I'd pretty much gone with my gut in choosing him over others - more intuition than knowledge in my decision. I had a good feeling about him.

Reserved by nature, he shared information modestly. But one sentence found its way into our conversation that's stayed with me 22 years now: "There are things that you'll never see that are in your house." Huh? I wondered ... He went on to say that he'd added things like extra nailing above the code; stronger bracing where he thought it would help (should a bad earthquake hit); and the smallest possible holes in the wall studs where the electric wires were passed so as not to compromise the stud's strength, even though it made feeding the wires through rather difficult.

Every day we make hundreds of large and, mainly, small decisions that define who we are. It begins with the decisions we make on how we spend our time (at every moment we're doing this instead of that); but it then moves to what we want from that time - what do we want to show for it.

Even though many decisions we make seem automatic and beyond our control (like showing up for work on time so we don't get fired), they're really not (being on time is our defacto choice of the paycheck over free time). Almost everything we do comes with a wide range of choices: what we decide to do, with those choices, is a veritable X-ray of "who we are."

My builder friend did things he knew would never be seen, known, or appreciated - but to him mattered. Some deeply internalized integrity and caring was coming through. For him, "OK" wasn't OK: who he was wanted excellence in whatever work he did. Can you think of someone in your life who lives by similar values ... whose internal standards wind up producing all those little extras in their work (or in other areas) - something deep within that says: This matters ... This is what's right ... This is who I am.

What do you expect from life? What standards do you hold yourself to? I think if you think about it, you'll find those two questions are fundamentally interconnected.

Perhaps you can recall that special teacher "who changed your life" ... the teacher who not only loved their subject matter so passionately but held you to a standard no one else did - and had you enthusiastically producing for him/her as you'd never done before. And how good that felt! Over these six decades, I've fully come to appreciate the karma of life. That what we put out, we inevitably - one way or the other - get back. The integrity and quality my builder brought to his work is, I fully believe, getting returned in God knows what ways back to him. I don't know much about the rest of his life, but I sensed a profound strength, harmony, and purpose to it.

We can't - and probably shouldn't - try to create that "excellence" in all we engage in. But it might be well worth a look - in our work, in our relationships, and in our nurturance of ourselves - to look at the standards we live by. What do we expect from and for ourselves. Where do we really put out even though no one (even ourselves perhaps) might ever know. Just because it feels good. Because some voice deep within says to.

Most of us probably have areas, or occasions, in our lives where we give "the best that we are." Be grateful - very grateful - for that: a spiritual gift that ultimately offers purpose, meaning, and joy like few others. Consider too, perhaps, what applying that high standard to other parts of your life might yield.

[Ed. Note: This essay struck a chord with the web master. There are things you'll never see in the web site, too. Read about them.]

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
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