The Couch I Loved and a Small death to Self

Apr 4, 2018 | Blog, Essays

Sometimes a major spiritual battle in your life is over a couch.

Years ago, after finding ourselves drowning in debt, we went on the Dave Ramsey plan.  About a year into the Dave Ramsey plan, our couch died a miserable death. What had once been a presentable, very comfortable couch had become a smelly, juice- and food-covered booby trap with springs sticking out, chewed cushions and was possibly the residence of a hobo couple.

Not wanting to take any more money than necessary away from paying down our debt, we decided instead of buying a replacement couch we’d just build one.  (If you’ve been on the Dave Ramsey plan, you understand).

So we then spent a couple of years with a nice, well-made park bench in our living room, painted to match the rest of the décor.  It was a place to sit, the children and dogs couldn’t destroy it and it was easy to clean. It had all the necessary components of a couch with the exception of comfort.

I was fine with it.  That was our life right then.  We had a big family, a tight budget and a park bench for a couch.

Fast forward to a few months ago.  My husband had a job that paid very well but he hated it. He stayed there because he wanted to take care of his family.  We were out of debt and with this new job, the budget had loosened substantially.

We were at IKEA, looking for a set of shelves to replace a dresser that couldn’t keep up with our growing family and IKEA has wonderful space-saving furniture.  We walked into the front showroom area and there was a simple, navy blue couch I loved. I can’t say for sure, but there may have been a heavenly light shining upon it and a chorus of angels singing its praises.  The couch so perfectly matched my sensibilities that it was as though there were a designer in Sweden that was really my twin, separated at birth. Only we were probably fraternal twins because I am short and very not blonde and my furniture designing is only so-so.

Along with a hood for our stove, sheets, wash cloths, toilet paper roll holders and new socks for everyone, the couch went on our list of things to buy in the coming months that we’d been putting off but could get now that we had a fabulous income.  Well anyway, an income that could afford actual couches and not just homemade park benches.

A couple of weeks after that IKEA visit, my husband interviewed for and was offered a new job.  It paid less than his current job, but since it was exactly the kind of work he wanted to do and, more importantly, he didn’t hate it, we decided we could manage the cut in pay.

I was fine with it.  We’d lived on a tight budget for so long now, I couldn’t hardly remember what it was like to not live on a tight budget, even with our small reprieve at the well-paying job.

I was fine until my sister posted a funny story about my mother sitting on one of her sofas, which made me think of my parent’s upcoming visit in a little over a month, which made me think of their last visit when there was nowhere comfortable for them to sit.  It was like a switch flipped inside my brain somewhere because out of nowhere, it became very important for me to have that couch for my parents’ visit.

So, even though our emergency fund was still under-funded and we didn’t know for sure exactly what our new income would be only that we’d be making less or what the health benefits looked like, I floated the idea by my husband of getting the couch anyway.  I think he felt a little guilty about the job change which caused all this couch turmoil and, attempting to find something that would please me, he took me back to IKEA.

I was hoping the couch was around $200 since IKEA has many nice couches for $200.  I was nearly sick to find out it was closer to $600.

“Let’s just get it,” my husband said.

“That’s way too much,” I said.

“Then let’s get a cheaper one,” he said.

“I don’t want a cheaper one.  I want that one,” I said. “But it’s too much.”

I felt bad because I knew I was making him feel bad for taking that lower paying job.  I felt bad because my parents were going to have nothing comfortable to sit on when they came out to visit.  I felt bad because it was such a dumb thing to get all worked up over. Yet, I couldn’t leave that couch section, my mind racing to brainstorm some way to walk out of that store with that couch, but knowing there was no way to do it without credit or dipping into our savings.  I so badly wanted that couch and I kept asking God in my head, “Is a couch really too much to ask?”

In the end, I knew His answer was yes.  At this time, that couch was too much to ask.  We had other priorities for our money and the couch would have to wait.

With the higher paying job that my husband hated, I’d gotten a taste of financial comfort that I hadn’t felt for years and clearly, I was having a hard time letting it go.  I was clinging to that financial comfort through this couch, which, thinking about it, is a good symbol for comfort.

God doesn’t say we’ll be comfortable if we turn our lives over to him.  In fact, he says that sometimes the opposite of comfort might happen. He says this many times.  And then, just to hammer the point home, he showed the opposite happening by getting horribly tortured, humiliated and crucified.

We’d chosen to take the path that God had paved out for us and right now, there wasn’t a new couch along that path.  I should be grateful that this was my current cross to bear because life could get a lot more uncomfortable than not having a couch.

When I think of things that trip people up spiritually, I always think of the big stuff that can come between a person and God like addiction or unbelief or becoming a little too involved in Sci-Fi.  I forget that, more often, it begins with the little things like an unnatural obsession with a couch.

Happily, it’s the little things that can also lead us back to Him.  Pope Benedict XVI said “it is not a headlong leap into heroism that makes someone a saint but patiently and humbly walking with Jesus, step by step.”

In the big scheme of things, not buying that unaffordable couch was a small step on the path of self-denial that will make me stronger when it comes time for the bigger stuff like not divorcing my husband because his mother won’t stop dropping in unannounced during nap time and telling me how tired I look.

It was quite literally an exercise in denying myself comfort and it’s out of those small deaths to self that contentment can take root and start to grow.

Finally coming to terms with reality, I gave up trying to work a financial miracle and we headed toward the exit.  There we came upon an outdoor couch with cushions in the show-space near the door to the parking garage. The cushions were in our range of affordability.  My husband looked at the measurements of the cushions.

“These cushions are the perfect size for our couch,” he said.

“And they’ll be soft for my parents to sit on,” I said, meeting his look.

We went back in and bought the cushions.

Back home, the cushions on the bench, the children jumping all over the couch, bubbling over with excitement like we’d just put a moon bounce into the living room, it all worked.  Thinking about it, we now have three kids that hadn’t known anything other than the park bench. That’s what they thought a couch was. It didn’t bother or embarass them. Children are so good at just delighting in what is there.  I’m thankful God sent them as little lanterns to light the path He has paved for us.

I am truly fine with it.  This is our life right now.  We have a big family, a tight budget and a park bench for a couch.  A park bench with cushions.

couch with cushions

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