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Home Improvement & the Quest for Peace

June 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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The Sinner's Guide (Week 12 of 16)

 In its pursuit of worldly possessions your poor heart fruitlessly exhausts itself, for it will never find content. It drinks deeply at the fountains of pleasure, yet its thirst is never appeased. Its enjoyment of the possessions it has already acquired is destroyed by an insatiable thirst for more. – The Sinner’s Guide (Chapter 31, Paragraph 7)

Several years ago I took advantage of a much-needed opportunity to attend a two-day mother's retreat and was afforded the privilege of sleeping in the guest quarters of a convent.  To this day, I recall neither the theme of the retreat, nor any of the speakers or topics for discussion. I cannot even tell you where the retreat was located or which of my friends attended.

But I can tell you about my room.

It was small. Sparsely furnished, it contained a twin bed and a desk with a chair. Covering the bed was a simple white bedspread that hung to the floor and a cotton pillow housed in a plain white pillowcase.  The modest desk was neat and clean, and the mismatched wooden chair appeared to have been one from an inexpensive dining set. The only adornment in the entire room was a wooden crucifix, which hung above the desk, within direct sight of the bed. That was it.

Within that room, I felt a breathtaking amount of peace. I distinctly remember thinking,

This is all I need. Everything else is superfluous.

Unfortunately, this insightful moment did not travel home with me.  At least not in an action-oriented way. Although the memory has rested uneasily in the back of my mind as a reminder of simpler possibilities, my husband and I continue to practice what has become our self-professed hobby of choice – home improvement.  In fact, we are on our third home in 15 years, and – in our case – our third DIY [do it yourself] remodeling project.

From the moment we moved into our current house, I had a list of projects a mile long, imagining in my mind’s eye, not the existing home, but a completed work of art. In fact, over the past three years, my existence seems to have been driven by a desire to see the final product of my imagination.

Unfortunately, a never-ending desire to improve one's home can become a slippery slope into the depths of materialism, which is difficult to escape. And the world, through examples of instantly transformed homes on HGTV [Home and Garden Television] or beautiful images on Pinterest or, DIY blogs and scores of magazines, shouts words of encouragement that have us sliding down that slope quicker than quick.  We are led to believe that it’s no longer enough for a home to be comfortable and “homey;” now our homes must live up to the models featured on four-page spreads found in Better Homes and Gardens.

As a direct result, spending on home improvement is going through the roof, despite the housing bubble having burst in 2008. According to LIRA (Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity), spending on home improvement is seeing double-digit growth.  But we're not merely updating our homes.  We're upgrading them.  According to a survey done by Planese, Americans not only want to remodel but have an increasing desire to remodel using “expensive,” high-end materials.

We should ask ourselves, What lies behind this pressing desire for a perfect home?  Could it be that we are trying to create in our most intimate spaces something that is missing in our hearts? Peace? Comfort? Tranquility?

If so, will never-ending house projects bring about the effects we’re seeking?

Is it possible that our homes have become idols in and of themselves? I did a quick search on Google under “My home is my …” and was surprised to see that the words that completed the sentence included sanctuary, heaven, and refuge. Aren’t these descriptions that are traditionally attributed to God?

Certainly, if our homes are ordered in such a way that they direct our hearts and minds to God, they may be considered sanctuaries; but perhaps we should ask ourselves whether hardwood floors or an “entertainment” room housing a 50” flat screen TV are really designed to help us “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).

As importantly, what are we teaching our children about materialism when we spend so much time perfecting the aesthetics of our environment? Aren’t we encouraging them to store up their treasure in this world, rather than in the world to come?

And if that's what we teach our children,  will it even matter if our homes are perfect?

“…the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18-5:1


Reading Assignment:

Chapter 34-38

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you struggle with a desire for worldly things?  For me, it's “the perfect” house. What is it for you and what can you do to let go?

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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