After 12 years of marriage my husband and I pulled the moving truck into the drive of what we believed would be the last place we’d live. Four bedrooms, two and a half baths, a pool, and a yard the size of a small city wrapped in a six-foot fence was finally ours. We painted, re-carpeted, remodeled, and perfected our new home. Our children would enjoy the childhood I had only dreamed of with a neighborhood full of kids to play with and pool hopping in the hot summer sun. God had truly blessed us.
However, what started out as “the American dream” quickly became “the American nightmare.” Gas prices soared, property taxes rose, and the price of food climbed to new heights. We never missed a mortgage payment, but we were barely making it. What was God doing? Hadn’t he blessed us with this house?
Obsessed with money, we lost sleep, and we lost our joy. Our marriage suffered and so did our kids. We’d become enslaved to our white-carpeted castle. So we cut back. Things like the internet, eating out, and movies in the mail flew out the window. But that wasn’t enough. More drastic measures were required; downsizing, moving back into town where the drive to school and work stretched no more than five minutes ahead.
At 30something and with two kids, downsizing was an unheard-of concept. Leave a gorgeous house in a quiet neighborhood away from the noise and activity of the city? Were we crazy?
“You won’t save that much,” some said.
“You’ll never sell your house in today’s market,” others said.
“What about the kids? They love the pool.”
“Your house screams ‘you.'”
We heard it all. Still, we knew what we had to do. So we plowed ahead getting the house ready to sell, and finishing projects someone else would enjoy. It no longer mattered to us. God was changing us and our idea of the American dream.
Six days after the sign went into the yard, the house sold. We knew moving was God’s desire for us, but it still shocked us. What now? Where was he taking us? And so began the arduous process of looking for a home while temporarily living with family.
We spent weeks looking for a home that would suit our needs: close proximity to work and school, a safe neighborhood, not a lot of work needed and something we could afford. In the end, God took us back to our old neighborhood in the heart of town where the noise and traffic are never far away. While most people yearned to get out of the craziness of the city, we moved right back into the middle of it. At times we felt like Noah, readying our house in a neighborhood deemed “unsafe” while those around us mocked and questioned. It didn’t matter.
That first night in our new home the four of us slept in the same room, and for the first time in years, I felt like I was home. The house we left was beautiful, yes, but take out the people and you reduce it to just that, a house. Home has become synonymous with people, not things; simplicity, not debt; and most important, a place where God’s voice is not crowded out by acquiring objects of no eternal value. This is our dream.
Learning to be content with what we have and the life we’ve been given is one of the most difficult things to master. At least for me it is. Contentment versus entitlement; the second lesson God taught me in my journey to freedom. You know how it is. As people, because we breathe, we feel entitled to certain things. We graduate from high school with expectations of college and on a scholarship. Upon graduation from college we expect to make a six-figure income right out of the gate. Then we get married, and we feel entitled to the big house. When our first child is born, the zippy little car we’ve been driving around must be traded in for the “family” vehicle, usually a van or SUV. We want what we want when we want it, and we will get it by whatever means necessary.
For me it came down to asking when is enough enough and, more importantly, when is God enough? When would I finally have enough of all the chasing around of things I thought I needed to be whole and get down to the business of serving God and living out the life He created me for?
Like I said in part one of this series, the money thing was just the beginning. What I’ve come to realize is that this issue of being content extends far beyond the external. My attitudes toward other people whether anger, frustration, resentment, bitterness, whatever, are all rooted in feelings of entitlement. The problem is that just like debt stifles freedom in one way, bad attitudes stifle it in other ways. We aren’t free to serve God and to live in contentment when we’re steeped in attitudes we feel entitled to. We become enslaved to bad attitudes as easily as we do bad behavior. What about you? What attitudes or behaviors are you in bondage to?
I know what I need to work on, and though daunting at times, God spends our lifetimes perfecting us.
“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6, NIV).