When my wife and I moved to Grand Rapids, MI we rented a small apartment in the suburbs. We furnished it with some stuff from my sister-in-law before doing the grownup thing and financing a new couch, loveseat, oversize chair, coffee table with a top that lifted up so you could store more crap inside, and a large, heavy armoire that made the room feel fancy because you could close the TV behind some doors. Ah, the ignorance of youth. But the really fun part of all the new furniture was figuring out how to arrange it. At least it was fun for me.
Arranging and rearranging became an obsessive habit. I wouldn't leave the furniture in the same place for more than a month or two at a time. Again, this was a small apartment, so that, combined with the size and quantity of our furniture, didn't really for too many options. But that didn't keep me from trying. It meant that at times I had to run longer extensions cords and coax cables so that I could position the armoire in a place it was never meant to go. I experimented with all four walls of the living space, with angles that didn't make sense, or by creating divisions of the room that had no logic.
I've often wondered about my motivations for the frequent editing of the space, and this curiosity always brings me to the same conclusion. There was an essence of creativity at work. Something in me wondered if there was another way to put the puzzle together, to make things fit. I'd like to say that the nobleness of creativity was the core motivation. But something else was happening, leading me to pushing around the couch and running cables out the armoire and back again. I was trying to rearrange something must larger than my living room.
We moved to Grand Rapids in 2004 for two reasons. I wanted to go to seminary and we wanted to be a part of Mars Hill Bible Church where Rob Bell was the pastor. The latter reason worked out splendidly, but the former did not. I struggle in my first attempts at seminary. I did fine in some classes but I did not have the discipline to tackle Hebrew or an interest a full-time class and work schedule. Things weren't going the way I wanted, the way I expected. So what did I do? I rearranged furniture.
Rearranging furniture gave me a feeling of control and a release of energy. The stuff went where I put it and stayed there. It gave me a distraction from the other work I really needed to do like memorizing vocabulary or learning verb endings. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment that I was not finding in the other efforts of my life.
Do you know this feeling of rearranging the furniture? It might not be furniture, but you know the work I'm talking about. Rearranging the furniture happens anytime we engage in frivolous works to avoid doing the real work we want and need to do. It can take many forms: over-investing ourselves in a hobby, spending more time at work than is required, chasing degrees and initials and titles after your name, binging on The Office or Friends for the ninth time, or climbing the ladder of supposed success.
None of these things are innately wrong, but if they're not connected to your purpose, to the deep calling within you, to the life that wants to be lived, then it's just rearranging the furniture and hoping that somehow the room around it will change. Here's a short series of questions to find out if you might just be rearranging the furniture in your life. Choose an activity that you regularly engage in. Ask yourself these four questions. Be honest with the answers. Take your time.
What value am I honoring in this activity?
What am I avoiding by engaging in this activity?
What would be different if I made different choices?
What do I really want?
If you come away from this self-examination and feel no need for change, good for you. But if you come away from it feeling pangs of longing and desire, feeling like something is stirring or waking up, then you may just be rearranging the furniture and there's some real, life-giving work waiting for you.