The couch should have had a warning label. It seemed just like any other ordinary piece of furniture and actually went really well with the end tables and lamps we bought too. My wife and I were in our mid-twenties and had just made our first significant purchase as a couple for the home that we were living in at that time. As most young couples do when starting out, we had cobbled together used furniture from our parents and friends and had been pretty content. Then it happened. We were walking through the store together like we had several times before and saw the couch. Immediately, we both knew we had to have it and that it would fit well with our décor.
We got all the new furniture home and set it up right away in our living room and then sat on the couch to see if it really felt just as comfortable in our home as it had at the store. After a few moments, we both grew silent and seemed to be pondering what to say next. Then, as has happened many times in our marriage, we both blurted out virtually the same thing – “You know what would go really well with this furniture is …”. Somewhat startled, we looked at each other and realized that we had been thinking the same thing. We had not even gotten the furniture in place for five minutes and we already wanted something else. It felt a little bit like Edward eating Turkish Delight in Narnia.
Little did I know that this would be a catalyst that set in motion a series of events that would eventually lead my wife and I to leave our corporate jobs (which we loved) and become fulltime missionaries. What I did know was that my heart had been exposed and I would never really be satisfied with goods of this world. This is not to say that I stopped wanting things. On the contrary, I became very aware of how much stuff I wanted and now saw what gaining even a little could lead to. While I do not hold anything against those that God has blessed with material things, I knew that if something did not change in me, I would be consumed by them.
A few years later I was serving my first year in the mission that we had joined. I worked as a retail clerk in CLC’s Christian bookstore in Philadelphia and learned to love and work among African American people. This new adventure exposed me to many aspects of urban life that I had never known before.
One day a woman came into the store and seemed pretty distraught. She proceeded to tell me that her son had recently been murdered and wondered if we had any books that might be able to help her. I did not know what to do. No one in my life had ever been murdered and I did not even know a single person who had gone through this traumatic experience before. With a quick prayer, I began to talk with her and took her to our grief and consolation section.
As we were walking and talking, we were suddenly interrupted by another customer. She apologized for listening in on our conversation, but proceeded to say that she had had a son who was murdered just a year before and then pointed to a book on the shelf. She said, “That book really helped me.” At that moment, I wondered if an angel had been sent to help me. In any case, I knew that this was divine intervention and that God did answer prayer – sometimes immediately.
A few days later, one of my friends from my former life in the corporate world called to see how I was doing. The way he asked his questions, I knew that he thought I was crazy for leaving behind a well-paying job and a growing career to serve customers in a bookstore. With all sincerity, I told him that I had never been more professionally fulfilled than at that very moment. Nothing I had ever done or acquired could quite compare with the daily joy and fulfillment that I was experiencing now.
In the 15 years since that day, I have learned much more about my all-consuming desires for stuff and the temptations do not get any easier. What a blessing it is that I can still sneak down to the bookstore for a few hours every now and then. It does not take long for me to interact with a customer who reminds me once again that I am storing up treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.
I’m sharing My Hazardous Faith Story as part of a synchroblog connected with the release of Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper’s new book Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus.”