The end of June marked my 7th move in 2 and 1/2 years and my 15th move in 6 years. I can thank college dorms, short-term apartments, and travel nursing for my moving expertise. I have it down to a science! I can stuff my Ford Focus hatchback named Daphne like nobody’s business. I kept track of my donations in Excel sheets and take the tax rebate at the end of the year. I’ve even got so good at moving, I’ve outsourced and hired movers! (Seriously, movers are so, so, so worth the money.)
I am not just tired of moving; I’m exhausted. I just want to have a home. Every time I’ve gotten used to a place, it’s time to pack up and leave again. That constant uncertainty, looming good-bye, and always turbulent change is difficult. It’s tempting to leave things in boxes, to see the obvious fruitlessness of unpacking only to re-pack in a couple months, to not grow attached to where I am.
But, I’ve found not only unpacking but decorating is imperative.
There’s something inherently useless about decorating. A house is can be just as presentable without frilly pillows on couches, lovely flowers on tables, and silly pictures on the wall. But decorations are the key to making a house a home. Decorating takes a cold, white room into a blank canvas to express our very being. So, wherever I have lived, I have decorated.
Yet, I think there’s also a very real temptation to decorate our lives as we do our homes.
Unlike any other time, we have a large amount of control over what other people know about us. Instead of learning about acquaintances at class reunions, weddings, and through that one family member who knows everything, we can just click on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever else and find out what we need to know.
Social media makes us all act like little celebrities. Friends have texted me about engagements and then told me to wait to post anything on Facebook. Friends who have just given birth are amazed at how quickly other people posted a picture of them an hour post-birth. Friends reference seeing what I’ve been doing because they saw my most recent posts. Friends have voiced not even wanting to go to class reunions because they already know what everyone is up to.
I feel like it used to be for my parents’ generation that you looked across the street at the Jones’s house and compared their home to their home. But for us millennials with rampant information overload from social media, we’re not only comparing our homes to many more Jones’s, but also we’re comparing our very lives to everyone else’s lives.
So, we decorate. We post a filtered, perfectly angled selfie when someone rejects us, or we post a loving message about our significant other after a fight, or we make our job sound much more fulfilling than it actually is, or whatever else. We decorate our social media pages like we hide our messes when company comes over.
But just as I’ve learned to make where I’m living my home, I’ve been learning to make where I am in life my home.
There’s a line in the new translation of the Mass that I love. It comes from the Gospel when Jesus is approached by a centurion to heal his servant. When Jesus starts to come over, the centurion tries to send him away, saying he’s not worthy for the Lord to enter into His home (Luke 7:6). The line in Mass comes right before Communion and is “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
I love the imagery of our spiritual hearts as a home. In general, I love thinking about the heart in prayer. If I’m ever stuck in prayer, I just think about the physiology of the heart, and I’m continually blown away by its spiritual implications.
While away from home as a travel nurse, I began to think of my heart as my home, thinking of all the corners I close off for guests, all the dust-filled spots on the TV stand that I never clean, all the nooks and crannies that I love and hate. And slowly, I started to go through my life as if it were my home, showing my Beloved Guest every nook and cranny, every dust-covered table, every closed-off closet. It was painful, embarrassing, and scary, much like having a guest find dirty underwear in the bathroom, but it was healing as the line in Mass promises.
Letting God in felt so great, I started to do the same with people. Vulnerability is wonderful and good, but being vulnerable with people can sometimes lead to anguish. People don’t always receive us, our pain, our joy, our struggle as we need and desire. So, not receiving what we need and desire from one person, we can turn to others, and others, and others, constantly seeking what we’re looking for and becoming more exhausted in the process.
There’s a temptation to let everyone into our lives, let everyone see our pain in hopes of some healing, let everyone see our joy in hopes of some happy response, but constantly seeking exterior affirmation for interior pain and joy is exhausting. It’s like always having people over. At some point, you need to be alone, regroup, and clean up the house a little bit.
So, too, we need to close ourselves off in order to be more open. My beloved Henri Nouwen explains it like this:
“You must decide for yourself to whom and when you have access to your interior life. For years you have permitted others to walk in and out of your life according to their needs and desires. Thus you were no longer master in your own house, and you felt increasingly used. So, too, you quickly became tired, irritated, angry, and resentful.
Think of a medieval castle surrounded by a moat. The drawbridge is the only access to the interior of the castle. The Lord of the castle must have the power to decide when to draw the bridge and want to let it down. Without such power, he can become the victim of enemies, strangers, and wanderers. He will never feel at peace his own castle.
It is important for you to control your own drawbridge. There must be times when you keep your bridge drawn and have the opportunity to be alone or only with those to whom you feel close. Never allow yourself to become public property, where anyone can walk in and out at will. You might think that you are being generous in giving access to anyone who wants to enter leave, but you will soon find yourself losing your soul.
When you claim for yourself the power over your drawbridge, you will discover new joy and peace in your heart and find yourself able to share that joy and peace with others.”
– Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love
Discovering your own personal drawbridge is so empowering. It’s not that we aren’t open. It’s just that we need time and space to embrace and accept those imperfect spots in our home and love them so we can show them to others without needing outside approval.
Since moving, my roommate and I have been very particular about who can come over. The floors needed to be re-done. The shelves had horrible heart-themed paper on them. The living room was littered with boxes (and still is a little bit!). We let certain friends and family see our home, but we need our time, some space, and a lot of energy to make this apartment our home before we have a housewarming.
Yet, it’s tempting to compare my brand new living space to a well-established home. I see friends with adorable walls filled with family pictures, or rooms with re-finished furniture, or lovely bay windows with pillows and a view. I want my home to be like that! Suddenly, my home is not good enough, even though my home is more than enough.
Comparison is a thief of joy, or so said Theodore Roosevelt. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others. Granted, I’m very guilty of comparison, and this could very well be one of those plank in the eye versus a splinter in the eye situations.
I’m a competitive person by nature. How do you know if you’re winning? Comparison. It doesn’t matter if you scored a 96 on a test if everyone else scored 99. College taught me you can get a 70 and still have the highest grade in the class and get an A. Numbers are inconsequential. What matters is the curve, and the curve relies on comparison.
But comparing lives is always going to make us feel like we’re measuring short. Every person is unique. We all start on a similar track, but at some point, we all start going down different paths, and comparing paths is useless because everyone’s path is different. It’s like ever since high school, everyone is continually living a more and more unique life, so it’s grown to be more and more measuring sticks where everyone’s measuring stick is different. Comparing myself to a million different measuring sticks is exhausting, and I’m never winning. I hate it, but I do it all the time.
The antidote for comparison is gratitude, and it is one of the skills I began to learn during the difficult time. Another antidote for comparison is admitting your inherent brokenness in intentional prayer.
A simple way to grow in gratitude or intentional prayer is simply to practice it. Gratitude and prayer are skills, not traits, so they can be learned. A certain amount of grace is necessary for both, but believe me, let the Divine Teacher know you want to pray or you want to be grateful, and He’ll school you (gently and kindly, yes, but He will school you).
The Divine Teacher will surely teach you in a unique way how to grow in gratitude, intentional prayer, or whatever else you desire to grow in, but that doesn’t mean you can’t decorate! On one of my more creative days, I made a very simple Do-It-Yourself to help me grow in intentional prayer.
First (and most fun!), I scoured Pinterest for free printables.
Second, I found a frame with lots of matted white space around the print such as this:
Or another option from I scoped out at Target picking up odds and ends for the new place:
And then all I needed was to print my printable, put it in the frame, and write my intentions with Expo marker. And now I have a cute and purposeful decoration for my night stand:
Personally, I used a 5×7 print with a frame obviously a bit bigger than that. As you can see, I have a lot of blank space, so I’m clearly still working on that intentional prayer! 🙂
Cultivating gratitude for the home that we have and allowing our Beloved Guest to see every corner of us is going to give us a profound peace. Comparison will never allow for that. So, let’s make where we are our home, both physically and spiritually.