In front of you.

“And everyone was working on the wall in front of them,” Nehemiah said.

We were sitting on the floor in the Spiritual Formation class I’m teaching. The learners were sitting in groups of three or four, talking about the kinds of habits and practices and actions that they want to build into their lives. A week before, I’d asked them how they wanted to be known in five years. This week, they were talking about how to get there.

I turned to him. “Hmm?”  I was working on an email. I wasn’t paying attention.

“When we were rebuilding the wall,” he said, “everyone was working on the wall in front of them. As we talked about years ago, it gave them motivation and focus. In this class, people are doing the same thing, building the life in front of them.”

I remembered that Nehemiah’s great work wasn’t rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. It was rebuilding the confidence, the identify, of a nation that had been marched into exile, that had lived there for a couple generations, that was returning to their homeland and being hated for it.

“How is this about building a people,” I said. “Since I’m guessing you know there isn’t a wall here.”

“Look at what they are doing,” he said. “They saw a gap between who they are now and how they want to be known in the future, a picture that will more resemble Jesus. They are identifying small steps daily, weekly, monthly. They know they will do the work, but they are asking each other for clarity, for counsel. They will get better at building as they do it. Each step will shape the next step.”

“And they will be be humbled and encouraged and weak and strong, all at the same time,” I said.

“Uh, Jon,” Kevin’s voice came from a nearby table. “How much longer do we have?”

I looked to my left, wondering whether Nehemiah was going to be part of this conversation, too. But the space was empty.

“Start with a decade,” I said.