I returned home to Houston for a few days just recently to celebrate Christmas with my family. It’s always a bit of a trip down memory lane because my parents still reside in the same house that I grew up in. So, the house I returned to for the holiday is the same house I lived in when I graduated high school, the same house I drove home to after football practices, the same house I skateboarded out in front of, the house where I celebrated each birthday, the house where I played pranks on my sister, the house where I got sent to my room when I acted like a punk, the house where I took my first steps as a toddler, and the same house I was brought home to from the hospital when I was born.  Until I left for college, it was all I knew of living arrangements. 

Over the few days I was home for Christmas, as an effort to offset the ridiculous amount of food I ate with the family, I went on daily walks with my dad. On one of the walks, I took notice of a house in the neighborhood that was the exact same architecture of the house I grew up in, just a few streets over.  I never had much reason to go down this street as a kid, and the few times I might have passed this house I hadn’t taken much notice of the similarity. My old neighborhood was designed in the 1970’s, and one of the marks of neighborhoods from that era or before is that basically every house has a different build and floor plan. Very rarely are copies found. But this house was the exact same exterior as my parents’ house. I walked past it, examining it as I strolled by on the sidewalk, but quickly it struck me that while this house was the exact same on the outside, it was a completely different home. My parent’s house was no different at first glance, sharing the same floor plan, but what happened on our same floor plan was totally unique. Our laughter, our disagreements, our dinner time discussions, our movie nights, our anxieties, our jokes, our tears, our accomplishments were all totally unrepeatable.  Our adventures and moments were totally unique, as theirs in the other house would be. 

In our culture, it is easy to feel like you are a copy of everyone else. We struggle with identity. One thing I appreciate about teenagers is that they wear identity crisis on their trendy sleeves. One day they are a skater, then a jock, then the next they are wearing all black all the time, dressing like they might be tempted to bite you and then fly away. They clearly wear their search for identity.  Adults hide it and try to assuage the feelings by buying stuff or living vicariously through their kids.  However, the feeling of needing to be unique or different still nags at us, and we try the goofiest things to conquer that feeling.  Men often put sports and identifying with an athlete as a top priority in their life. Women often gossip about each other to justify their feelings of wanting to be more important. On social networking sites, people will post the most intimate everyday details of their lives and their family members’ lives as a way to one-up their peers. I’ve come up with a term for this: Hyperposting.  It means going overboard on status updates about mundane things.  I believe this comes from a need to convince ourselves and others that we are unique and valuable. We struggle with all of this identity crisis and social competitiveness, but the fact of the matter is you live a life completely unique and important to yourself and the immediate people around you. Your outside architecture doesn’t define the importance of what’s happening inside. I love the ending of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  It speaks directly to the importance of experiences and relationships that we tend to overlook. Many of our behaviors come from social competiveness and fear of our social worth instead of a pursuit of a life modeled after God’s interests and ideas of a life well lived.     

The familiar parable in Matthew’s Gospel of the two men who built houses comes to mind. The parable never tells us what their houses looked like.  But as I picture it, they would have been similar on the exterior, yet they were built on different foundations. As you might remember, the house built on rock stood firm through the storm, and the house built on sand could not weather the storm.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7.24-27, ESV)

Jesus tells this story as a closing to his teaching on the ideals of the Kingdom of heaven and what a life built around that resembles. His teaching starts with the Beatitudes (a list of things beautiful in God’s eyes that may be counter-cultural to the world) and continues with urgings of forgiveness, prayer, purity, faithfulness, and love.

The point is, a life may not be extraordinary by superficial standards, but in actuality it may be beautifully unique and precious by the standards of God’s kingdom. You might feel like just another house or apartment in just another neighborhood, but you are not defined by that. You are defined by the life you live and the way you portray God’s beauty and grace within those walls and out in the world around you.  No two lives, however similar, are the same by God’s standards. Every life is unique.

Guiding real people to embrace a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ