“Teacher,” they said, “where are you dwelling?” Jesus replied, “Come and see.” (John 1:38-39)
When we were invited to the large estate of a generous philanthropist at Christmas, I spent a bit of time on what to wear. Should I opt for a dress from my closet, buy a new one, borrow a friend’s, stay with my standard black, wear pantyhose or not?
After borrowing a friend’s black dress and my mother’s beaded clutch, and putting on my heels, we left for the night. After we arrived, with a glass of wine now in hand, we discovered the entire house was a library for art and books. We toured the grounds, chatted with the guests, and stepped into room after room that, rather than soaring to the heights with an effort to make a person feel small, felt intimate, homey—small rooms to sit and read, a living room with a crackling fireplace and chairs for conversation, an intimate dining room in the wine cellar… The table itself was glory… with flowers and candles scattered liberally, turning it into an undulating experience of petals and light… Course after delicious course came. Wine glasses were never empty. And the eighteen of us were asked to answer one simple question: When did you experience an event so transformative that you knew God was real?
I flushed when I heard it, and my stomach did that flip-flop it does when I know I must speak something true, something that hits at my marrow. What sorts of stories would other people tell? Would I fall apart trying to tell my story of the specifics of my move home to the suburbs, that I’ve best known God in the giving up? How would that look? …
The stories overflowed like wine: God had come near in suffering and healing—husbands bedridden, children lost, hope for adoption, and family reconciliation. But being stuck in the present tense of my story meant that all the emotion found its way out of my heart and into my body. When it was my turn, I found myself choking back tears in my borrowed black dress, as I recounted my story…: this was not what I thought I wanted. I felt almost bred for glory—which seemed to be the American dream, success, living overseas—and then God broke in and humbled us, bringing us more children than we thought we could handle easily, and suddenly we were learning to live the kingdom of God with our children not as accessories but as brothers and a sister in Christ. God also called us to start a church back at home in the suburbs of our birth. For the move, every door had opened: financial provision, friends and the powers that be agreed this was God’s good for us, and friends to move with us to plant the church. But still I felt more akin to Jacob, wrestling with God, than Mary, the one to birth the Son of God, who said “Let it be so.”
What was first birthed in me was discontent, pain, and self-pity. Railing at the suburbs for its idols of consumerism, individualism, image and a lifestyle that was too expensive to afford. Angry that I wanted it too. Angry that I’d ended up right back where I started instead of walking city streets, taking my children to art galleries, or chasing baby chicks in the countryside. I know deep down no place will fully satisfy. That the cities and rural life are not escapes, just as my suburban one is not an escape from all that haunts us as human beings. But I desperately wanted it to be true. I want to escape to an idyll. I want to find myself contentedly at home.
But in his kindness, God has brought me low. He has lovingly exposed the ways I think myself superior or better than my place. He has shown me, in the pain of my own body, that I am but a breath. He has shown me how a life in the suburbs does not absent us from the problems of other places, even if the suburban idols fashioned here are different, more insidious, and harder to root out. Most of all God has shown me himself—in sunshine, in walks, in tenderness, in showing me that all places can point me home, all places can be appetizers of glory. Ω
Consider where you live: What are its joys? What are its challenges and idols? What did you need to learn about yourself in order to live there well?
What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of intense reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent.
From Ashley Hales. Finding Holy in the Suburbs. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2018. #Lent2021. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent, Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Rachel Coyne on Unsplash.
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