A House is Not A Home
There are three incidents related to houses and home that I’d like to share with you. Years ago when I got divorced, I left a very cushy lifestyle and a twelve room Country French house in the best neighborhood of our city. I had grown to really love our house, but I was getting a divorce and wanted things to remain as normal as possible for my teenage daughters since I was the one moving out. I rented a two bedroom condominium nearby so that they would have equal ease in coming to my place as to the house since my ex and I had joint custody.
When I lived in the big house, I’d had a group that met every week for several years. We would have as many as 35 come to the meetings and were able to all comfortably sit in our living room. However, when I moved, I was concerned about trying to jam everyone in to my much smaller place, but finally decided to invite the group over. I had been feeling uprooted and insecure as I no longer felt I had a home of my own. I was living a brand new life and it was hard to go into other people’s homes because I felt homeless.
When I finally decided to invite the group to have an evening of meditation and a guest speaker as we always used to do, about 12 people came, and it was like sardines all shoved into a can. I realized just how big my previous house’s living room was while in the new space we were huddled together to make space for anyone else who might come.
A funny thing happened during our meditation. As I eased into the quiet place within myself, I saw my surroundings expand, and what had been tiny and cramped became large and inviting. The message I received was that my home was not a particular place, it was within me. I was the home, and it didn’t matter if I lived in a palace or a stable. When we came out of the meditation, everyone commented that they’d felt similar sensations and we had a wonderful rest of the evening. From that time on I no longer felt homeless…I was just like a turtle with my home on my back!
The second incident happened when my daughters were finally out of high school and I was going to move from the condominium I’d been renting to a nearby town that I really loved and where I also worked part time. I was just coming up to a renewal of my lease, and knew I had to make a decision since the landlord was unwilling to continue renting on a month-to-month basis. I put the word out to everyone I knew, including my friends in the town where I wanted to live. A friend who lived in a triplex there told me that her neighbor wanted to sublet his place for a year as he was going to Europe, and I was very excited at the prospect. The rent was doable and I’d be right where I wanted to live. More than that, the triplex was right on the edge of the most exclusive area in that city, and walking amidst the beauty would be a gentle reminder of my previous life.
Unfortunately, my lease was up for renewal in May without the option of a monthly rental, and my friend’s neighbor was not leaving til September. That left four months without housing. What to do? My friend suggested that since she had a two bedroom place, I could certainly rent the other room from her for the interim and put all my things in storage. I wasn’t sure if I wanted a roommate, but my mother convinced me that I could live with anyone for 3 or 4 months, so on Memorial Day of that year, I made the move. There was an adjustment period, but after a couple months it was nice to know that my rent was very affordable and I felt a surprising lack of responsibility for the maintenance of an apartment all alone.
What began as a four month interim arrangement changed the day the neighbor said he’d decided not to move. Rather than sublet, he was going to wait a few more months and then consider his options. If he left, I could always apply to rent the place then. However, my housemate and I found that our arrangement was wonderful. We both had alternative work styles…not the “normal” 9–5 routines, and the freedom we both felt from sharing rent and not having to make a huge salary to support ourselves was very comforting. Plus we had similar spiritual paths. And what began as a 4 month stay turned in to ten years. They were the most productive and creative years of my life, and I realized that I truly enjoyed having the freedom to pursue my dreams. For all intents and purposes, I lived most of the time in my room. My books, tv, computer and bed were there, and they were all I needed. I took art classes and painted, drew, wrote, and had great creative breakthroughs as I walked in the lovely surroundings and led a life of grace. I didn’t need all the things that were in storage, they were just more “stuff” and what was really meaningful to me was right where I was.
The third incident that focused on house and home was when I met my partner online and he planned to make the 2,000 mile move from Chicago to the west coast. It was time to consider taking back a rental house I’d owned and moving into it. It was the small house where my children had been born and had been a rental for 29 years. I was concerned because the rent I got from that house had partially paid my bills and mortgage, but now I was trading that security in for moving back to a house I always loved, but had not thought I would live in again.
When all the furniture came to the house from storage, I found things I’d forgotten about and had quite a time merging his stuff with mine. This was a 5 room house, and we didn’t have huge spaces, but made it warm and cozy — a place where people have loved to come. Yet, there was a time when everything worried me. We had frequent bouts of plumbing backups because of tree roots, and I knew the house would need painting and a new roof, and then a new central heater. It needed some landscaping and other updates, and all those concerns made me feel anxious. I wasn’t sure if I should sell the house or keep it. Money was also a factor as now I lived in it and had lost the rental income that helped with the bills.
One day, I felt so conflicted that I sat in prayer, asking God for help. What came to me was very important. I asked if I should sell the house, and the answer was,
You can live in the house as long as the house does not own you. If the house owns you, you must sell. That was just what I needed to hear. Although I don’t like the intrusion of major issues that come with owning a house, I take it more in stride and in perspective.
A house is a place and space where we can set down roots as long as we are aware that the real home is within ourselves and will be there no matter where we live. We bring home to a house or apartment, not the other way around. A house is a building. It can be lovely and inviting, but it is not a home until we bring the gift of ourselves and make it so!