Competing for a house

I’m not generally a competitive person. But the capacity for competitiveness is there and sometimes it comes out in surprising moments.

Nurturing those communities, with our time and energy as much as physical spaces, is the point of all the resources with which we are entrusted.

Recently it happened when I thought that a house my husband and I are looking at buying might be purchased by someone else first. I panicked a little when the real estate company didn’t return our calls, and so I submitted my information on an online form on the house listing. Which, as it turns out, is a very bad idea for anyone who doesn’t want to immediately be contacted by real estate companies, mortgage companies and multiple real estate agents wanting to represent buyers. Most of the emails I received were full of listings for houses far from the community where we are looking to put down more roots. If I ever wondered wheth­er the housing market had fully recovered in my area, I now have my answer.

It’s easy to get excited about what we would do with the additional space a small house would provide. We could feel more free to be hospitable, with two guest bedrooms instead of one with a single bed only. I could garden at home and grow produce for us to eat and share with neighbors. And I could expand my composting without having to worry about anyone else thinking it is too messy.

Yet it’s important to remember that there is no sense in which my husband and I need a house. While our current five-room apartment feels a little cramped sometimes when we have guests, feeling cramped is a product of the culture in which we were raised. It’s not based on a calculation of how much space human beings require for a decent standard of living.

And if we needed a reminder of how fortunate we are that we already have adequate housing, we received it when the apartment of a friend and neighbor burned during the same week that we started seriously looking at houses. Seeing the damage caused by the fire itself and the water that put it out, I saw that our housing is a temporary possession as much as the items we put in it.

We can use our homes and our stuff as tools in faithful living, but they can also be taken from us without any sense and through no fault of our own.

The things we cherish, and sometimes rightly so — photographs and journals, for example — can end up in piles in a backyard, mostly unable to be salvaged.

We know this, but there’s nothing like the soot-covered evidence of it in front of you to make the reality sink in.

Remembering that, I know that I need to let go of my competitiveness. Perhaps a way will open for us to buy this particular house, or perhaps we’ll find a different one that allows us more space to welcome others and care for them and ourselves in additional ways. Or maybe we won’t move at all. Whatever happens, we can rest in gratitude for the communities we are part of building.

Nurturing those communities, with our time and energy as much as physical spaces, is the point of all the resources with which we are entrusted. It’s those communities where we share what we have with each other and where we uphold each other when tragedy strikes. And it’s those communities that can’t be destroyed by fire, water or any created thing.

Celeste Kennel-Shank is a hospital chaplain, editor and community gardener in Chicago.