A House Is Not Our Home

respice finem
~consider your end~

We’re preparing to move again (this will be our seventh time in our ten years of marriage), and spent a long weekend looking at houses. About ten houses in I was overwhelmed and pessimistic with the whole ordeal. On our drive home my husband and I were discussing our needs and what the houses we toured had to offer, and I was becoming increasingly anxious over what seemed like an impossible fit. Would we ever find a house that fit our needs without overspending? From the backseat our seven-year-old piped up, “you know mom, it doesn’t really matter what the house looks like or what it has, all we need is shelter.”

He was right, of course.

We tend to operate by our perceived needs, those things we have convinced ourselves are necessities for our well-being. Often these things are, at most helpful additions to our needs, but more often they are conveniences, trivial wants, or sometimes simply greed. We don’t “need” them. We are so quick to say “I need this”, and we repeat this to ourselves so often that we begin to believe it. We hang our joy on our stuff. We build our houses around ourselves as our very own kingdoms, and we tell ourselves that we cannot be obedient to God’s call on our lives: to love others, to be hospitable, to be patient, kind, and have faith in him, unless all those “needs” are fulfilled. How can I be patient with my kids when I don’t have a dishwasher? How can I love other people when my house is so small? How can I be hospitable when my decor is so outdated?

My son’s assertion helped bump me out of that thinking. I had come to believe that I need a big kitchen and four bedrooms, when the truth is, I want a big kitchen and four bedrooms. It isn’t wrong to want those things, it is wrong to believe the lie that I need them in order to live well.

When I recognized this (through my son’s wise words), I was freed to look at houses differently. Instead of looking at them as some way to satisfy me, to make our lives easier, or to be comfortable, we started looking at houses as tools. How could this house help us be hospitable? Does its location lend itself to meeting neighbors and inviting them into our lives? Could we host multiple families and have a safe place for lots of kids to play? Could we use this space to welcome people to stay with us?

Our search went from being us-centered to other-centered, with a mere shift in our thought language.  And I believe our failure to recognize our flawed thought-language of need versus want is a pervasive threat to our contentment and our witness to the world. Not just in the houses we buy or rent, but in every aspect of our lives, from our time to our food, the decor we choose and the toys we purchase for our children.

As John Piper writes,

It will be very hard to bring the nations to love God from a lifestyle that communicates a love of things.

Does the way we buy communicate a love of things?

In America we love stuff. We love novelty. We love shopping for the sake of shopping. We have an entire day dedicated to buying–the day after a holiday that is supposed to be about giving thanks. We’ve turned Christmas into a consumeristic machine. Then when we become overwhelmed with our stuff we throw it away. We trash clothes and toys because they look worn or we don’t want to take the time to fix them. We upgrade our perfectly good phones for a new model simply because it’s new.

The term “retail therapy” is even thrown around as a perfectly acceptable use of our money, wherein we buy things, not because we need or even want them, but because the mere act of buying makes us feel good.

We squander our money and things because we don’t think of them as tools in the hand of a good God with an eternal purpose. Our houses, food, money, and toys are not merely for creating a comfortable, happy existence for ourselves.

We buy, and consume, and waste because, I believe, we don’t consider our end. We’ve bought into the lie that this world is our home, and stuff will make our stay here easier. And it might make our lives easier. But if this world is not our home, as Christians claim, then our lives aren’t about being easy, or comfortable, and our stuff isn’t about us.

Let no man say, ‘God has blessed me with money and possessions,’ and then live as if he and his God were alone in the world.
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We are blessed, and we are not blessed for ourselves. When we live as though the gifts God has given us are for our own comfort we end up being enslaved to them. We have forgotten that:

Gold rusts and steel decays,
Marble crumbles away.
-Anna Akhmatova

We have let consumerism take the place of hospitality and generosity.

We have convinced ourselves that what we think we want is what we need. And the reality is, it hasn’t made us any happier.

Trust me, I know this, as I hauled out bags of stuff to donate that I thought would somehow make our life more comfortable and thus make me more at ease. But they didn’t, and we found we didn’t use or want them. We wasted money in this lesson.

This is likely why minimalism is on the rise. We are drowning in stuff. Downsizing and tiny houses have become popular for people who have recognized that perhaps consumerism isn’t as fun as we’ve been told it is.

But minimalism by itself isn’t the answer. Reducing our stuff, being intentional with what we do buy, and downsizing are all good things. But by themselves they will not fulfill the purpose of our houses and our possessions. Ultimately we have to commit our money, our houses, and our stuff to the One in whom we claim we put our trust, and look to use them to further his kingdom, not to build mini-kingdoms of our own.

If we claim to believe that we are sojourners here, looking toward a better country, then our purchases should reflect that. Choosing to trust in Christ and recognize him as the only thing we truly need and prayerfully buying and intentionally using our possessions for his glory, is the only way we can live in our houses looking toward home. Then we can hold things loosely and love people well. We won’t care if our carpet gets a stain from a child, because we care about the child, and the carpet exists as a way to serve them. We won’t worry if our dinnerware does a good job of showing our style, because we’ll be too busy encouraging our brothers and sisters over shared meals. We can open our houses, offer our stuff, and do it all gladly because our hope isn’t in unbroken dishes, or clean floors, but in the One who prepares a place for us in our true home, in that distant country we long for.

We can turn our houses into places of refuge and peace for those who are wearied by a world of sin. We can use our stuff, that will break and wear and one day burn up, to further an eternal kingdom.

Our stuff isn’t our salvation. Our houses are not our home. Let’s live–and buy–like we believe it.

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