Generations ago, it was unusual to move very far away from where you were born. My mother died recently, at the house where she had lived for over sixty years, less than ten miles from her birthplace. But times have changed; on average, people living in the UK now move house eight times in their lifetime. Since moving house is both expensive and highly stressful, we’d probably like to do it more often than we actually do!
Even so, once we reach middle age most of us are relatively settled. Unless forced to relocate because of work, we tend to stay in the same house for twenty years or more (thirty years in our case). That’s a long enough time to feel that a house is ‘yours’. After thirty years living here, I look around and see a bathroom and kitchen that we installed, decor and furnishings that we chose, and a garden that we designed and planted.
And yet this sense of permanence is an illusion. As we started to pack up for the move, I realised that very little of what we have now was brought with us when we moved in: just the china and cutlery, some pictures and ornaments, one armchair and a bookcase. Everything else has worn out (or got broken) over the years, and been replaced. The roof and four walls haven’t changed since the house was built in the 1950s – but although they’ve been ‘ours’ for thirty years, they belonged to many other people before, and will belong to a new family in a week’s time. But we will have a new home in which to settle – maybe for decade or two, but not for ever. Eventually we will die… and ‘our’ house will change ownership again, because we won’t need it any more.
It’s the same with our bodies. You may feel that your body is ‘the same’ as it was twenty years ago (except perhaps for a few more wrinkles and an extra inch or two round the waist) – but the cells that it’s composed of are actually in a state of constant turnover, and their chemical constituents are being continually replaced and renewed. Virtually every part of us (the nervous system is the main exception) is in a state of constant flux. This is one reason why the body can repair itself so quickly after injury; on the other hand, unused muscles can atrophy just as fast.
And just like our houses, our bodies are not our permanent ‘home’. They are not only changing, but also slowly decaying; one day they will no longer be ‘fit for habitation’. We need to be prepared to move on – and, thank God, He has promised us new dwellings! “We have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (II Corinthians 5:1) Our earthly houses – and bodies – must then be left behind; but a new home and a new body await us…