Green with Housing Envy: Bursting the Bubble of Coveting My Neighbor's Home
A few years ago, my family and I moved from a sprawling ranch with a finished basement to a rental townhome with harvest gold appliances and a kitchen counter the size of a Pop Tart. The place looked as though it had been designed by TV-sitcom architect Mike Brady.
We figured we'd be parked in this 1970s sitcom set for a few weeks, four or five months at most. We were there for more than two years. Writer Lisa Jo Baker recently described the way living long-term in what was supposed to be a short-term dwelling "stunted her hospitality and ate away at her contentment." Our groovy rental home had the same effect on me.
Oh, the stories I told myself during those years. Almost all of them began with, "When we move … " When we move, I'd reason, we will have people over for dinner again. We'll unpack our library. We'll plug into a church instead of keeping our relational distance. When we move, we will relaunch the kind of life we used to have.
I'd allowed the dated dwelling and temporary nature of our living situation to leech shalom from 750 irreplaceable days of life. I'd shed a healthy hope for a more functional living space on approximately Day 42 of our sojourn, replacing it with restlessness that oozed like hot tar from my soul.
In an ongoing attempt to pursue things that weren't mine to possess, I wished away part of the abundant life God had given me during those years. I am saddened to admit that only after we moved to that different home did I allow God's imperative words to confront my sin head-on: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor" (Ex. 20:17).
This commandment is especially difficult to keep in a culture where coveting our neighbor's house is big business. There are cable networks devoted to home and lifestyle upgrades, magazine racks stuffed with glossy shelter magazines, and thousands of users adding their "best nest" dreams to their Pinterest boards. Though the collapse of the housing market five years ago has dulled the sheen on the American Dream of home ownership, the lure of a better home - and, implicitly, a better life - still drives flippers and buyers alike in some pockets of the country.
This desire is deeply embedded in our collective psyche, beginning with the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1620. Though religious liberty was their primary motivation, within a generation, the original group dispersed in search of more space. Governor William Bradford explained, "For now as their stocks incresed, and ye increse vendible, ther was no longer any holding them togeather, but now they must of necessitie goe to their great lots; they could not other wise keep their katle; and having oxen growne, they must have land for plowing & tillage." The desire for a place to keep our own "katle," oxen, or that massive collection of kitschy salt and pepper shakers has shaped us ever since.