When our family decided to move from a bigger house to a smaller house, it was with the idea that we weren't giving up space; instead, we were freeing ourselves to make different choices.
This verse from the Bible came to mind: "God can give you more than you can ever need so that you may always have sufficient for yourselves and enough left over to give to every good cause" (II Cor. 9:8, J.B. Phillips).
Our street had been around for 20 years, and its houses reflected the average size for that time. Taking my new, more pleasant route to work, I passed construction sites where much larger houses were being built. Clearly the families living in these "McMansions" had substantial material success, and I assumed they also had success in their spiritual pursuits.
But I've found insight in the work of Marianne Cusato. When she designed one of the first "Katrina Cottages," an option to the FEMA trailers used immediately after the hurricane, she did so from the practical experience of living in a 300-square-foot apartment and with the desire that a home, even a temporary one, would express dignity, friendliness, and grace.
Yet at the same time, one of my concerns, having consciously purchased a smaller house and a smaller car, was whether I'd be sending a misleading signal to friends and co-workers.
A colleague from our corporate office was visiting, and when we'd finished lunch at a restaurant near my home, he suggested we drive past the new place. "Yup," he said when he saw it, "that's a tear-down." He was referring to the practice in his part of the country of demolishing perfectly good smaller houses to make way for bigger houses, sometimes really big houses (see "McMansions migrate from 'burb to city," The Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 2).
Mentally I was sputtering. I couldn't even respond to his casual dismissal of our little house. Was it really necessary to defend a decision to downsize and to describe all the reasons it felt important to be more modest? I sincerely wanted to spend less time and effort supporting and caring for our earthly castle and more time focused on spiritual growth for myself, my family, and for humanity.
In answer to the question whether this spiritual desire provides any benefit, Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "Yes, the desire which goes forth hungering after righteousness is blessed of our Father, and it does not return unto us void" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 2). I love the description, "hungering after righteousness." That would be more productive than pursuing personal betterment or trying to impress others.
So I held my tongue with that out-of-town visitor. In a few minutes I realized he didn't mean our house should be torn down, but he was simply describing a trend in his own neighborhood. From that point on, we had an even greater respect for one another.
Months later in my spare time, I began to help with a project in another part of the state – a project that seemed to satisfy a bit of that hunger for righteousness. When it was necessary to drive to meetings, I was grateful for the image of my little car sipping from the gas pump instead of gulping.
Before too long, I was offered a career change, one that would afford daily opportunities to pray for all manner of situations and organizations. It wasn't a job that would make me rich enough to purchase a really big house with an expensive car, but its compensations were abundantly sufficient, and it provided a kind of freedom I'd never had in the workplace. Looking back, I could see how God had been clearing the path to this new experience.