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Although we had talked about it for several years, when my wife and I finally contacted a realtor in mid-January to talk about selling our house and buying a different house, things took off like a rocket. Within a scant month we purchased the first place we made an offer on (that is rare in this tight real estate market) and our home of fifteen years was also sold. Since we had lived in parsonages until we bought a house fifteen years ago, this was the first time either of us had actually gone through the process of selling a house. And it is quite a process.
Among the things we learned was the importance of what is known as “staging.” Before we showed our realtor through the house, we had already done a ton of work to make it look better than it does on average days. We moved a lot of extra stuff to a storage unit. We cleaned nooks we’d not bothered with for a while. We tidied up even the one or two rooms we did not use on a regular basis. We did our best.
But then our realtor said that to make the house as sell-able as possible, he was going to have a stager come through. A professional home decorator with a keen eye would walk through the house and we would subsequently receive from her a checklist of things to change before photography would happen and then before the showings began.
Thus at 5pm on a Monday evening, our stager arrived and it took her only 20 or so minutes to go through each room and make some verbal recommendations which were followed later that evening with an email giving us the full description. Several pieces of furniture and a couple of area rugs needed to go. We needed to open up spaces as much as possible. We needed to color coordinate our closets and linen storage spaces. Years ago my mother-in-law had made swag-like drapes for our bedroom, living room, and dining room windows. Our stager referred to them as “scarves” and said to take them down (I think she did not like them the way we did—windows with no draperies were preferable apparently!). Most flat spaces had to be cleared down to just one or two decorative items. Our cookbook collection in the kitchen needed to be reduced to only five or so books (not my usual 30 or so!). All family photos had to go from walls or tables.
In the end it struck my wife, son, and me that the goal was to make it look almost as though no one actually lived in the house! Indeed, after the photographer came in for the real estate photo shoot a week or so later, the resulting photos made the house look so nice we wondered why we were selling it. (Whatever lens the photographer used also made each room look a quarter bigger than it actually was.)
Well, it worked. The following weekend our son and dog moved in with my parents and my wife and I took to a hotel for three nights. From Friday morning to the noon on the following Monday forty-five showings occurred netting seven offers by that Monday evening.
Of course, even a pastor-theologian like me ought not spiritualize everything he comes across in life. But something about that staging process struck a spiritual chord in me after all. In one sense I was reminded of what C.S. Lewis wrote when he said that when the Holy Spirit moves into our hearts, we expect initially that the Spirit will perhaps lay down some new carpeting and put a fresh coat of paint on some walls. But in truth, Lewis observed, when the Spirit comes in, the Spirit starts to knock down walls and pull up floor boards so as to build a new house.
Still, even with the Spirit’s work in our lives, most days our spiritual homes are not “staged” the way we changed around our former home for selling. There are dirty dishes in the sink, a pile or two of magazines or unread mail on tables. There is some clutter and maybe even a drape or two someone else might deem tacky but that we like. And there are the spiritual equivalent of family photos and other reminders of our past and of our personality here and there.
The good news of the gospel, though, is that although we don’t look “staged” most days, the Spirit is happy to dwell within us anyway. Although we are all of us engaged in a constant dying and rising with Christ—we are trying to mature in our walks of discipleship after all—the fact is that our hearts very much look lived in and certainly include a mix of things both tidy and not so tidy most every day. When we approach God in prayer, we don’t have to first make ourselves look better than we are. “Just As I Am” and all that.
In this Eastertide time we know that we are on a journey to becoming a new creation, to being changed into all new people. But it is a journey and along the way there will be piles of magazines and clutter here and there. But thankfully we don’t have to convince Jesus to purchase us. He already did that with his precious blood and by grace alone.
That is the Eastertide gospel in which we rest and rejoice.