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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

The Biggest Mistake We’ve Ever Made

For the first time ever, my Lenten observance has not centered on food. I did not focus on language or snacking or chocolate or screen time. My Lenten observance has been marked by the process of selling our house.

We accepted an offer on our house on Mardis Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday. We officially closed on the house on Holy Thursday. It is remarkable how that period of time precisely spanned the six weeks of Lent.

I wrote on these pages about burying an image of St. Joseph on the day we put the house on the market. Sure enough, on the feast of St. Joseph, we reached final agreement on a sales contract. We broke out the champagne.

We were celebrating the simple fact that we were free and clear of the house. Our final agreement had us leaving the house with nothing—not making anything, but not having to bring any money to the table to complete the transaction. We wanted to make a full transition to our new lives in Indiana and decided not to keep the house to try to rent it.

We celebrated too soon.

Later that week, we got the final report on our sale, which showed two 0% interest loans that we qualified for as first-time homebuyers when we bought the house. We simply forgot about them and completely missed the fact that they needed to be figured in to the sale.

So, what was to be a break-even deal for us suddenly became a deal that put us in the hole. The situation raised some troubling issues for us.

On the one hand, if we can’t sell the house, would we try to rent it from 2,000 miles away? Who would we rent to? Who could we find to manage it? Also, there was very little evidence that we would be able to put it back on the market in a few years and do any better.

On the other hand, we had already negotiated a final sales agreement with a buyer, and if we pulled out now, he might have a legitimate claim on the house. It was possible that he could sue us.

I told Stacey that I felt like the Israelites crowded on the shore of the Red Sea, with raging water on one side and a hostile army approaching on the other. It seemed like there was no way through.

What felt worst was the idea that we had made a mistake that put our family’s security at risk. The risk of being sued might have been slim, but it had entered the realm of possibility. Our fundamental task as parents is to take care of our family, and we had put that at risk.

I felt irresponsible, regretful and full of fear. There was lots of fear.

It was just about then that I started to wonder where God was in all of this. Through all of our negotiations with the sale of the house, we had the feeling that God was leading us. Now that the whole thing was falling apart, where was all that trust I had placed in God over the past two months?

I found an answer to that question in a prayer we use at the veneration of the cross service on Good Friday.

The prayer begins like this: “Remember your mercies, O Lord, and with your eternal protection sanctify your servants…”

A bit ironic, isn’t it? Good Friday is the day we recall Jesus’ suffering, abandonment, humiliation, death and entombment. And we begin our prayer with “remember your mercies” and “eternal protection?” Really?

It got me to wondering if our notion of protection differs from God’s notion of protection. When I think of protection, I tend to think of comfort and security in circumstances around us.

Perhaps God’s notion of protection has more to do with circumstances within us. Perhaps, for God, protection is about faithfulness—about remaining united to us, and us remaining united to God, regardless of what is going on around us. Perhaps God’s protection does not provide comfort, but provides faithfulness that gives us a way through.

All too often I look for a way around or over or under. God’s protection offers a way through. And this is why we venerate the cross on Good Friday. It is a symbol of God’s protection. A symbol that God leads us through, just as God led Jesus through death to new life.

Back to selling the house. I was feeling like the Israelites gathered on the shore of the Red Sea. I was praying for a way through, and a way through appeared. We were given a loan, which allows us to meet all of our responsibilities and avoid all of the troubling scenarios we had been facing. We were able to close on our house last week, and we’ve made a full transition to our new lives here in Indiana.

Was it God protecting us? It depends on how you look at it. God gave us a way through.

And just as we prayed on Good Friday—“with your eternal protection sanctify us”—we have been made more holy by this faithfulness.

We’ve found a good measure of humility here—we will have to work hard in the coming year, but we’re not afraid of work. It is a chance to mature and grow. We certainly feel more grounded, and reoriented around what is important in our life, and it is not money