When the Concrete Dries Too Fast

Hard lessons from my worst job ever

I’ve done lots of different jobs during my lifetime, and most of them were rather fun. Before even getting out of college, I had painted houses, worked at a bowling alley, managed a miniature golf course, done landscaping and blacktop sealing, and served as the director of a teen center. As an adult, my diverse careers have included being an attorney, a pastor, a magazine editor, an instructor at a ministry school, a church consultant, and a writer.

But one job stands out as by far the worst  I’ve ever had. It only lasted for one day, but it left a profound impression on me nevertheless.

I don’t even know what to call this job. If I wanted a positive spin to add this on my resume, I probably would call it something like “Concrete Technician.” But in reality it was just grunt work—somewhat akin to a prison chain gang in the old movies.

My dad owned a number of rental properties, and he hired my cousin Jack and me to pour a new concrete driveway for one of the houses. Of course, Jack and I had absolutely no experience with concrete, but apparently my dad thought this was something anyone  could do. And I’m sure we were a lot cheaper than anyone else he could find for the job.

It was a hot July day, and the first three or four hours were spent in breaking up and removing the old  concrete. We didn’t have any fancy equipment to do this. Just pick axes, sledge hammers, and shovels.

Did I mention that it was a lot like the old chain gangs?

Realizing that Jack and I needed a little guidance, my dad hired a man named Pauley to oversee our work. Pauley was a plump, jovial sort of guy, and he chuckled as he gave us instructions on what to do. Of course, Pauley never lifted a finger to help with the heavy lifting, but he enjoyed watching Jack and me sweat and complain as we broke up the old driveway.

At about 11 a.m., Pauley said he was taking off for an early lunch. I guess he felt he’d given us enough instructions until the concrete truck arrived at 1 p.m.

However, it turned out that Pauley had an alcohol problem. Instead of just going out for lunch, he went on a drinking binge and never returned to our job site.

You can picture the scene when the huge blue concrete truck came at 1 p.m. The concrete guys were used to dealing with people who had experience  with such things, not novices like Jack and me.

Eager to get to their next location, the concrete guys backed up their truck to the driveway and poured out the fresh concrete. Jack and I did our best to smooth it out, but the concrete hardened amazingly fast and with disastrous results. Within a few hours, we found ourselves with a “new” driveway that looked like the topography of the Promised Land—full of hills and valleys. What a mess. It was embarrassing, to say the least, but we had done our best.

One of my premises is that we should try to find the lessons in every story we encounter throughout life. Although many different lessons could be cited about my calamities as a “Concrete Technician,” my main takeaway was the shock of how fast concrete dries. And once the concrete dries improperly, the only way to remedy the situation is to get out the pick axe and sledge hammer again. Ouch.

This principle applies to many different areas of life:

  • When you have a newborn baby, the clock is running on how much time you have to “mold the concrete” in their lives. Sure, you still can give them your parental input once they’ve become adults. But it’s certainly a lot easier when you’ve already shaped their values at an early age, when the concrete is still wet.
  • Every business, governmental agency, political party, church, or nonprofit organization has a “corporate culture,” and this is more difficult to change as time goes by. A friend of mine became the senior pastor of a church that had been planted a decade earlier. The man wanted to make some significant changes to the church culture, and he failed to anticipate how difficult this would be. After all, this church prided itself on being “prophetic” and open to the ongoing leading of God’s Spirit. One of its mottos was even “Constant change is here to stay!” Yet the reality was much different than the motto. After just 10 years, the church “concrete” had become surprisingly resistant to change.
  • If you’re a Baby Boomer, like I am, you’ve probably already dealt with the “concrete” principle in your personal life. The perspectives and habits you’ve formed over the past 50 or 60 years are not easy to change, are they? I hate the old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but let’s admit, it’s a lot harder  to teach new things to us “old dogs.”

Jesus addressed the “concrete” principle in terms of putting new wine into old wineskins (Mark 2:21-22). Just like concrete on a hot July afternoon, wineskins harden quickly. Unless they are constantly hydrated, they lose their elasticity and are resistant to expansion.

This is a lesson for all of us. It is NOT inevitable  that our hearts become—or remain—hardened. God has His own pick axe, and He offers to remove our “heart of stone”  so He can give us a “new heart”  that is soft and pliable (Ezekiel 36:26).

He loves you enough to do that. So get ready for some surgery if you need a new heart today!