I recently flew to Missoula, Montana for my daughter’s graduation from photography school and drove back to Southern York County with her. On the way home we visited at a few places of interest, like Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, the Black Hills, and my favorite, the Badlands in South Dakota.
It was at the eastern edge of the Badlands that we passed by a “soddy"—a sod house originally built in the early 1900’s by a homesteader (also called a sod buster). It is basically a one-room home built into a hillside that uses sod for its walls. In the case of this one the owner later recovered a discarded shack and attached it to the soddy as a living room, creating two-room spaciousness.
Putting aside silly romantic notions of the simple life, I can’t help but contrast this with what most of us know. For instance, in Southern York County at least, newly constructed homes are practically all at least 1500 square feet, often much larger. Even newer townhouses are getting big. More space can be nice, sometimes almost necessary, but there are some down sides to think about, such as:
- It costs more to build (higher/longer payments)
- It costs more to heat and cool
- Taxes are higher
- There’s more to keep clean
- There’s more to break/fix
- It requires more furniture (which requires additional care)
My wife and I are getting to that stage of life where we can see the likelihood of emptying the nest not so far down the road. Will we need our four levels of spacious living for two people? Not really.
Problem is, when I think about downsizing I imagine a nice small house then think, well, it would be nice to have such-and-such, and wouldn’t this be swell, and, well, before I know it my cute little place has morphed into something at least the size of what we already live in. Each add-on is small, but they add up! Yet actually, the net benefits of all these little add-ons just don’t justify the “cost” (in the broad sense of the word). These “nice” but unnecessary wants are why most of us end up being owned by our possessions rather than the other way around.
We tend to live like those around us. If the “normal” house in our area was 800 square feet most of us would be thrilled with 1200 square feet. It’s all relative. But when it comes down to it, the size or luxury of our house, car, or any other possession has little to do with our happiness. I often have to remind myself of that. The newness will wear off and the object of my desire will move to something else. It’s a vicious, unending cycle.
The apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:6-7, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” I think of godliness as making pleasing God the top priority and being content to trust Him to provide for my needs (see Matthew 6:19-34). Pleasing God is done through how I live my life every day. It’s intensely practical. True godliness involves contentment (that’s the point Paul is making to Timothy).
This requires an unusual mindset. Since we can’t take anything out of this world the sensical thing to do is to focus on what lasts forever. The more I invest in the present world, the less likely it is that I’ll take the long view. A hundred years from now it will matter to no one—myself included—what I did or did not have. “Stuff” can weigh us down—burden us; and it never satisfies for long.
Discontentment abounds. Godliness certainly does not. When I think about it, lack of godliness is at the root of my own spates of discontent. Yet what could be more pleasurable than being content. True contentment is also one of the most attractive characteristics a person can possess. As a bonus it can even free my resources to store up permanent treasure in heaven rather than temporary treasure here on earth. What could be better?