You can click on the picture to see it bigger. I love remembering this moment.
This past week was the Chinese National Holiday, kind of like a week-long 4th of July. School was out, so Rachel, Andreas, and I went with Marcus, our main helper/teacher/friend, and his fiancée to Marcus’ hometown in SanMenXia. We took a train 10 hours overnight and did some bus hopping, rode past the Yellow River, and then rolled our suitcases through a tiny village until we walked through the gate of the Zhao residence and into their courtyard. I instantly felt so at home.
The guest bedroom was nice; simple, empty, white-washed walls, a large, not-too-hard bed with a big blanket, a desk, a lamp, an outlet, a closet, a couch. Obviously much effort and care had been put into making this room ready for us. Other rooms were much more basic. Just a bed.
The courtyard had a number of basic stools about a foot tall that were easy to move around to complete various chores. A tiny garden of some basic vegetables in the middle was bordered by blocks of cement, and an old kitchen sink that drained into a ditch in the cement floor. In the corner was a chicken coop for two pretty beaten-up chickens. There is also a crazy, old, rusted looking little furnace that you can set a pot on where Mrs. Zhao fries bread into a non-sweet version of a donut. Strung across the courtyard is a clothesline for the family to wash their three or four outfits. But most of the courtyard is just plain cement so that the family can spread out peanuts or sunflowers to dry.
The wash room was about 10’ x 6’, and contained a washing machine (though they use the washboard and basin more), a sink, a showerhead, a table, a mirror. Everything drained into a ditch in the floor that was covered by a board. The door was sturdy, but it took a lot of effort to get it closed and locked.
The kitchen was even smaller than the washroom, maybe 5’ x 10’. Packed in that little room was a sink, a counter, a stovetop for frying, a giant bowl for steamed and boiling rice, and another little counter. There is barely enough room for three people in the kitchen, and everything is very low to the ground… at least, I thought it was…
The dining room was just another tiny room attached to the kitchen with a little mini fridge and a table that looks like it was recycled from a fast food restaurant because of its attached plastic seats.
The toilet was the kind that you hear stories about. It was outside the actual house building, basically just some brick walls and a tin roof built around two holes in the ground with no door. With no drainage system, the place smelled pretty strongly, and became the home for hundreds of maggots. Yes, it was gross, but surprisingly easy to deal with. I learned a lot through that experience, and it wasn’t about being “sacrificial” or bringing myself down to this level; it was simply realizing that having a perfect bathroom is not one of the most important things in life.
Having a toilet is not one of the most important things in life. Neither is having a nice table in your dining room, a big kitchen, a shower curtain, comfortable patio furniture, new clothes for the season, decorative art, a living room, painted walls, or a mattress. Any and all of these things are nice to have; I know this because I have all of them at my home. But I was reminded once more of just how much they influence our joy in life: 0%. Nothing. How do I know this? Because this family that has so much less than most people was so beautifully joyful. They were so content. And it wasn’t because they had anything wonderful. It was because they had Love. They loved each other, and they loved Jes-s. Fervently. So much so that He was the subject of our first conversation, even though it was in Chinese. We read through the book He gave us together. We talked about how we are family. We sang and danced for Him. We prayed fervently and felt so united because we were so united.
If the Zhao family had been trying to make a nicer kitchen, maybe we would have had less time to sit together and read. If they had been finding a new dining room table, they would have been less beautifully content with everything they already had. As a guest in their home, I didn’t care that the restroom was horrid. I didn’t care because there was something so much more important: Love.
In eternity, Mr. and Mrs. Zhao won’t ever think about their plain walls or rusted shower head. But they will remember sitting with me and talking about how we will all be in heaven together.
I would encourage you to consider whatever physical thing it is you are striving for here. Whether a remodel, a nicer house, a new carpet, fresh wall art, a bigger dresser, an upgraded kitchen appliance, or a nicer lamp, I would ask you to consider the fact the these things will not bring meaning and fulfillment to your life. In eternity, these things will not matter at all.
I think I can rest assured that all of your homes are just as well-equipped, if not infinitely more so, than the Zhao family’s. So I can’t help but wonder why we can’t be as content as the Zhao family. How hard it is for our culture of more-more-more to simply stop and say: I have enough.
I have enough. What freedom there is in that! To begin living life with a perspective that looks to eternity.
Maybe you don’t have to go shopping today. Maybe you can close the Amazon.com webpage. Maybe you can stop with me and realize that what we’re lacking in life isn’t stuff. We have enough of that.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.