Eight years ago my family left DC. Not because we wanted to necessarily, but because we’d outgrown it. I moved into the city as a girl, but now that I was woman, wife and mom I needed what the city couldn’t offer anymore. We had space in our apartment and it was quite affordable, but it was in a basement. And even though it was a decent part of town, there were rats. There were playgrounds we could walk to, but there was no yard to dig holes in, or safe places nearby to ride bikes. No porch or patio to sit out and enjoy long summer nights.
We wanted a home, and with our income, that meant moving about an hour out of town. When we found a house we felt pure elation to have a space all our own. No more waking up to the sound of stomping of boots overhead. No one else’s shouting wafting through the cracks in the walls. It didn’t matter that it was tiny, or on a busy road, or that the view was of a taco truck and a run down shopping center. It was ours, and it was home.
But four months after we had signed the lease, my husband lost his job. The contract that brought in the money to pay for his position ended without a new one to take its place. Suddenly everything was in jeopardy- our lease, our newly established credit, our untarnished rental history. Then there would be no more dreams of barbeques in the backyard, or flower gardens, or watching Fourth of July fireworks from the back porch.
I also happened to be about four months pregnant at the time, but I wasn’t too worried about the baby, or how we would buy food, or gas, or our general survival. I knew God would be faithful to help us find ways to provide for those things. I was worried about the house, and that if we lost the house and our good rental history, it would be too long of a time before we would be able to move our new family into its own place again.
I prayed endlessly about it, “Please God, don’t take our house. Don’t make us leave.” The bible study I was in at the time was reading through the book of Matthew, and through that study God led me to this answer. “ Then a certain scribe came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:19-20) I didn’t like this answer, why did the scribe have to give up the idea of home to follow Jesus? I was tired of the gypsy life. By that time I had already had 15 different addresses in 8 different cities, and that’s not even including the four years of college where everyone moves every year anyways. I was tired of packing up; I wanted to stay.
I’m completely jealous of Jesus’ ability to speak so directly to the point. When I correct my kids, or try to use a parable, I am so wordy. Usually when I finish and ask them what they’ve learned, they look at me like they didn’t even realize I was speaking. Jesus is so precise with His words that He can pinpoint the problem and minister to the depths of the heart in a single sentence. In the exact moment I read that, I knew beyond doubt that no dream, no vision of perfection or happiness could ever compare to following Him. Even if it may seem impossible, how could I have the knowledge of his excellence and choose any other thing? It was hard to accept it, but that one single verse set me free from a huge amount of worry.
In the end we didn’t have to break our lease. Friends, family and strangers chipped in to help us cover the rent when we were short, and Adam was able to find a new job soon after. I was relieved the lesson turned out not to be literal, but I was also glad to have faced the possibility and become resolved to it. I can sing, “I surrender all” on Sunday morning, but it only has meaning if I can see the things that bring my dreams security and then know that I don’t need them.
It’s a lesson that has come back around for a second time this lent, as home ownership becomes closer than ever. As I think over the decision, I begin to imagine the barbeques, the gardens, and the memories to be made with the kids again. Or maybe even buying the dream place, an old farmhouse, with a few acres for chickens and goats, or whatever else we fancy. A place that we will never outgrow or have to leave again. Since that first house we have moved three more times, and I’m so tired of packing. The thought of owning our own place is more attractive than ever.
But over all of that I hear God whispering this verse again. And expanding on it through Paul, “ But what things were gain to me (my security, a home, my visions of perfection), these I have counted loss for Christ… indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection… forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:7-14)
Holy week is a journey to the cross, that starts out with big crowds and parades, but by the end even the most devout followers are denying association. It’s not that Jesus didn’t try to warn them, he said repeatedly the cost of following would be great. Nobody wants to give up the things that seem important, the house, the job, the vacation, the position of power and respect. There may be literal sacrifices as we journey toward the cross this week, and there may not. But if you’re willing to follow, be willing to consider what it might be like, and how life would go on without them. That if He asked you to sacrifice these things it would be for good purpose. Because along the way we will see that there is excellence, power, and a magnificent prize far beyond our understanding or imagination. And when you see it from that perspective, the nest or the den is really the last place you’ll want to be stuck.