Some years ago one of my neighbors, Beckie, asked if I wanted to go with her to a huge sale at Ikea. The store was closing, and they were selling all their stuff. Beckie is a self described materialist (“I like things.”) and thought it would be best if we got there early.
Early for her was 4:30 in the morning so we brought thermoses of coffee, parked in the darkness, and watched as a line began to form at about 4:45. When she saw the people beginning to gather, Beckie made a beeline for the doors. I followed her.
At first everyone in line was pretty much best friends, all of us sharing a similar aesthetic: Ektorp sofas and small collections of Allen wrenches stashed in our junk drawers. We were minimalists with a touch of European flare, our shoes had square toes back then, and we weren’t too timid to hang our DIY art on our living room walls above the couch.
We joked about how crazy we were, how we were hoping there were still some Poang chair’s left in the store, and agreed with each other about the inevitable madness that would soon overcome the place. I felt a special camaraderie with an overweight man who wore a t-shirt that said Next week I start my diet.
When the doors were opened we all began to politely shuffle forward, holding our coffees and Latte’s. We were jostled a little since there were so many of us, and a few people spilled coffee. We laughed in a good-natured way even though, to be honest, things were becoming a little irritating. Two Ikea employees in blue shirts stood to the side. One held a bullhorn up to her mouth but then hesitated and dropped it back to her side.
In the shuffle that was quickly becoming a scuffle, I was separated from Beckie. People in the back of the line began to yell and I felt a mass pressure from behind me like something large and mechanical was pushing us forward. I thought about some of the PETA posters I’d seen of bulldozers pushing cows into fenced areas with conveyer belts and mud—everything jostled and agitated, like shaking the wheat from the tares. I dropped my coffee and it disappeared somewhere underneath me as I was shoved forward.
I ended up pressed against the glass of the store front as a funnel of people squished like play dough through the double doors and out into the store. I watched through the glass as a woman ran to a white couch and sat on it to claim it. She spread her arms over the back as though to make sure people understood her intent to purchase. I wasn’t moving anymore, just flat up against the glass, one cheek smushed like a squid in an aquarium. As I watched crazed people running from one item to another, lifting tags to view the discounts, the lyrics for a Talking Heads song, Once in a Lifetime, floated into my mind, “And you may ask yourself, How did I get here?/ Letting the days go by…”
Of course as I write this I’m thinking back, and it’s a funny story now, but I do remember experiencing a wave of fear at a critical moment when I realized how completely out of control I was. How would it look to die at an egregious Ikea sale? It’s like dying on the operating table, mid tummy tuck. Not a great legacy to leave the kids.
I’ve been thinking about this stuff lately, this gathering of things that we do, and I’ve begun to think it might have something to do with nostalgia.
2 Corinthians 5:2 says, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” I love that word. Groan.
I think that when I make a trip to the mall sometimes it’s because the ‘groaning’ has become particularly loud. In the winter, when it gets dark early and it’s bleak outside, I can feel that very same thing that Paul’s talking about, that underlying knowledge that there is something really important that’s missing, that my life, even with it’s successes and the blessings that God has given me, is not enough and will never be enough. If you think back to when you were a kid, minus the scraped knees and painful moments, sometimes it feels like a place you want to get to but can’t. Nostalgia. It may be the innocence that you long for, a child’s view of life. Or perhaps it’s the simple ability to accept love and comfort from a less-than-perfect source. The imperfect world hasn’t happened to you yet, at least not really, and the ‘groaning,’ at that point, seems a million miles away.
So now, “longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,” we shop and watch movies and eat and rush the sales racks to tamp down that groaning at least just a little. We want to feel warm, we want to feel safe and content, the way it should be, the way it will be when we are finally with our father in heaven. The nostalgia will perfectly and wonderfully be satisfied.
But in the meantime we continue to be duped, which is kind of humiliating to admit, into mistaking Kay’s diamonds or a new Kitchen Aid dishwasher as the real thing, when at best it’s just a reflection—albeit, if received by faith, a genuine reflection—of God’s kindness and love toward us.
So long story short, with all my musings included, depending on the day and the circumstances, if I had to answer that perennial question the Talking Heads put so eloquently and with such a catchy beat, “How did I get here?” I would have to say that it was with and because of the groaning that I do as I long for the better world that I’ve been promised. If I find myself with my face plastered against the glass and nowhere to go, I’ve somehow confused this world with the next, and God’s love for a mere waffle iron, when in fact it’s so much richer and deeper and personal that—like nostalgia—I can’t seem to get to it, at least not yet.
For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. -2 Corinthians 5:4.