Transience: Life By The Lease

I’m living the transient life: paper-plate picnics and coffee sipped from Styrofoam cups. It’s not because I’m poor; it’s not because I’m ascetic. No. Plain and simple, I’m moving. Four years of marriage, and my wife, Liz, and I are stuffing boxes for our fourth residence: another lease, another rental truck, another pet-restrictive, paint-prohibitive, space-constrictive place to call home.

I had expected graduation from college and the death of the transient life to coincide. Originally, I figured built into one’s diploma was a clause promising, “A stable career with at least five years situated in a single setting.” Upward mobility. After the first few years we could upgrade to an SUV. After our second few years we could transition from renters to homeowners. We could buy a new sofa with matching loveseat, a set of hefty tools and perhaps a timeshare.

But somehow this never came to fruition. My resume has as many gaps as jobs, and our meager belongings have shrunk rather than increased over the past four years. It’s as if at the end of each lease-year—which we’ve necessarily adopted over the calendar year—our marriage experiences a materialistic purge. Glassware is re-gifted, furniture sold, clothing donated, paperwork recycled. Fortunately, Liz and I should soon outgrow the epidemic, since mobility is at its peak among twentysomethings. Recent U.S. Census studies revealed that nearly 30 percent of individuals within this age bracket changed living locations in a given year. The trend steadily declines after people reach 30. Migration grows older, too.

I am beginning to feel the wear. Transition is exhausting. Literally. I want to sleep all the time. Perhaps moving did not make the notorious Top 10 Psychological Stressors list, but I surely wouldn’t consider it therapeutic. Good feelings don’t arise from boxing my belongings, and I don’t feel particularly stylish when my entire wardrobe leaves room in a milk crate. The process of socially-uprooting and re-establishing evokes a sort of volitional paralysis.

This is life by the lease. It’s a phase; it’s a choice. It’s a decision to be flexible, to stay mobile, to defer investing and settling until the Lord otherwise matures us. Any transition in life is birthed from decisions. The thirst for adventure or the discontent with our surroundings may propel us to branch out. A new job, a new marriage, a new scene may induce change.

Regardless of the reasons and regardless of the repercussions, I’ve observed two spiritual themes while in transit. Purging has its place. The recent move provided me the excuse to rummage through my large keepsake boxes. All six of them.

I collect everything. I found notes from girls who tried masking their college crushes in the form of encouragement cards. Burned. I found old, incoherent lecture notes for information I can easily access online. Shredded. I found unimpressive drawings of unimaginative superheroes I sketched when I was 8. Trashed. In four hours, I relived and retired more than 20 years of memories. It was exhilarating.

Whether or not these items were “treasures,” I could not help reflecting on Jesus’ command in Matthew 6:19-23: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” Simplifying possessions was an outward expression of my commitment to follow Jesus with simple obedience.

Parting is empowering. When Jesus announced His plans to leave, the disciples must have felt a sense of desperation. Interestingly, these confessions were often followed by squabbles among the disciples concerning who would be next in command (see Mark 10:32-45). Initially, farewells can cause tension.

However, the after-effect of Jesus’ departure was extremely beneficial. He said, “I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). In a sense, Jesus distributed Himself by parting.

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Shortly after His migration to heaven, a band of underachieving followers started a spiritual revolution (see Acts 2). His departure empowered others with His Spirit, with His cause.

Sometimes the greatest form of empowering others is by leaving. I will never take credit for giving the Holy Spirit to someone when I leave, but I definitely leave a part of Christ-in-me with others upon my exit. These parts of me cannot always be distributed when I’m present. Tension may arise first, but we should expect greater movement to unfold.

I have parted and purged. It’s helped me live the transient life deliberately, without feeling transient at heart. Yet the dream of a picket fence, manicured lawn and three-car garage still lingers. Liz and I fondly speak of the days-to-come when our children will run circles around the yard with a clumsy retriever in tow. We think of block parties with a sizzling barbecue, coughing up smoke and sending mesquite scents down the street. We think of a church meeting, growing and reproducing within our humble living room.

Until then, we’ll experience the latter in a rental with our cat.

 

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