When moving furniture teaches you a spiritual lesson

Today we moved Grandma Marge’s cedar chest to the basement. I love that chest—it’s such a special piece of furniture. I remember it sitting at the foot of my grandma’s bed, faithful and sturdy, full of blankets she had crocheted and picked up over the years. It still smells like fresh cedar when you open it, even after all these years.

When we moved in to our house four years ago, Brenin asked, “Where should we put this?” He asked this a bit out-of-breath, because he and a friend were holding the heavy chest in the front doorway and seeking quick direction. I looked around haphazardly, overwhelmed by the volume of people asking me where to put boxes and furniture. My life was literally in everyone’s hands but my own, and I tried to stay calm as my new friends and old belongings whisked around me in a blur.

I focused. There was an open corner in the dining room, so I said, “How about there?” 

So there it went. And there it has sat for four years. 

There was never really a space I loved for that chest, but I felt like I needed to display it because it was my grandma’s and I wanted to honor her. It was kind of an obligatory decision, which is funny, because my grandma was no Emily Gilmore–the type of lady who would monitor a home to make sure all her precious heirlooms had a place of honor. Regardless, for four years, I’ve been a little annoyed with the placement of that chest, but I let it be because that’s where it was and there was nowhere else to put it.

At least, until recently, when I started asking myself this question: “Is my home serving me?” Because I don’t want my home to be a museum of stuff. It’s my home. The place where our family dwells. It’s where we pray, play, eat, learn, cook, bathe, host, grow. Our home is supposed to serve us, not the other way around. It’s supposed to provide the space to do these things well. 

So I like this question now. “Is this [insert piece of furniture/art/technology, etc.] serving our family?” I like it for a few reasons. First of all, because my instinctual questions are more critical, like “Would other people like this?” “How can I make this perfect?” “Is this in style?” And the answers to those questions are so subjective and frankly unhelpful. But to ask “Is this serving us?” That’s a quicker answer. And it gives me a set plan of action. Yes, it serves us? Great—don’t worry about whether it’s the latest trend. No, it doesn’t serve us? Okay, what needs to change so that it does?

So when I asked this question about the hope chest, the answer was a resounding “no!” It has sharp edges that are hazardous for children, the inside is broken and needs fixing which makes taking things in and out of it a total inconvenience, it’s a clutter collector, it makes sweeping and dusting difficult, it crowds our already tiny dining room, it doesn’t match any of the other furniture, I always have to shimmy around it to get to Joia’s food bowl, and all the stuff in it is rarely used by us and yet is in one of the most accessible and high-traffic areas of the home. 

The only two reasons I had for keeping it there were laziness and an obligation to my late grandmother who could care less if the chest is displayed. Asking that question helped me prioritize my feelings about this chest and ultimately to make a decision that I’m really happy with. For now, the chest stays in the basement. If we one day have a bigger house, it will come back out. We may even refinish it and fix the inside. But in the meantime, I’m happy with our decision. It’s another way our home will serve us.

And even though I’m happy with our decision, it’s kind of funny what I noticed spring up in me when I looked at the open space in the dining room. It felt open, exposed, bare, empty. For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to fill empty spaces. It was impossible for me to have a dresser with nothing on it. I’ve always stocked my surfaces with pictures and books and jars and whatever other knick knacks felt necessary. 

I don’t know if it’s something God is doing in me, or if it’s just me getting older, or perhaps wanting to simplify the physical stuff in my life since I have enough other responsibilities, but I’m really starting to embrace emptiness. In a decorating sense, I think I’m learning that more isn’t always better. Furniture-wise, I’m realizing there’s no point in having furniture if you’re not using it. 

But leave it to me to find the spiritual parallel between a few slabs of wood and my soul. 

I was wondering why I tend to get a bit anxious when I see empty spaces or bare walls. I think part of it is just that it feels more homey to have stuff on the walls. That’s true. But on a deeper level, I’m realizing that I’m afraid of not having enough.

I think this is something God is showing me, especially in these last few months as we wrap up our debt repayment. 

A couple months ago, I fasted for the first time in years. I only skipped breakfast and lunch because I’m still nursing, so it really wasn’t anything I should have been too concerned about. But as I was driving that morning, I felt a pang of hunger, and my instinct was to reach for a snack. And then I felt really anxious about not being able to eat when I was hungry. I took my anxiety to Jesus and asked Him why I was reacting that way. It’s not like I don’t have access to food—I know I’ll get some later when I break fast. So why the worry?

And in that time, I feel like he revealed to me that I have a fear of not having enough. Particularly the ways I’ve noticed this in my life are fear that I won’t have enough resources (food, money, clothes) and that I won’t have enough time (family time, alone time, time to finish chores, time with friends, etc.). That felt very true for me, and I’ve just sat with that realization for a while, not really sure what to do with it.

Then last week I was given a morning off work. With Ellie at daycare, I had a whole morning to myself. It was incredible! I went for a run on the beach at sunrise and listened to a Matt Chandler sermon Brenin recommended. One of the first things Matt talks about is this idea of the Abundance vs. Scarcity Mentality. Basically, people with a Scarcity Mentality are always worried they’re going to run out. Other peoples’ success means their own failure. A compliment to someone else is an insult to them. It’s like they’re hoarding everything, both internally and externally, because they’re afraid that they might run out.

On the other hand, an Abundance Mentality means that a person knows they have enough. When someone else succeeds, this person can rejoice because they don’t feel threatened by the good that happens to other people. While Scarcity Mindset hoards, Abundance Mindset gives generously because it knows it’ll be taken care of. People with an abundance mentality are not worried about running out—even as they generously give themselves away.

When I heard this explained, I got excited because it makes so much sense and I love that concept. I’m all about abundance! But then I was bummed because I realize I relate more often to the scarcity mindset than the abundance one. 

And yet, I feel God working in this. I feel Him challenging me to trust Him—to trust that I can share my food with others because He’s the one feeding me. To trust that I can give my time to others, because He cares about relationships. To trust that I can sometimes put off cleaning for the sake of fun because He cares about my soul. There will be enough time to clean. Enough time to be alone. Enough food to go around. Enough love to spare.

Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will wear…pagans run after these things, and God knows you need them. Rather, seek first the Kingdom of God and all else will be given to you as well. I can recite those words easily, but letting them be true for me is another story.

So this is what I think of when I see that empty space in the corner of the dining room where the hope chest stood for 4 years. I see lack—at least at first sight.

But as I look longer, I see more. I see opportunity. More room for us to move around, more room for us to pull up chairs at our table. More space for Eleanor to crawl. That open space is reminding me that it’s okay to feel scarcity, because it reminds us of our hunger for God, and that He is the only one who can truly fill our hunger. 

It reminds me of a prayer spoken by a guest speaker at our church: “Reduce me to love, for it is the central reality.” 

I love that: “reduce me to love.” That means allowing God to take away the clutter, to strip away all the extra stuff that doesn’t matter, so that what remains are only the truly important things: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.

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