Stand Down, Spooky


The last time we tried to sell our house we made the mistake of putting the cart before the horse. We did that in this way: before any buyer made an offer on our house we started looking at replacements. Our agent showed us places in our price
range. And that is how we met Spooky.

We were not in a financial position to consider the kinds of homes that show as if Sunset Magazine had just finished a photo shoot there. Instead we visited the kinds of homes missing toilets, which the previous residents had taken with them on eviction day. We encouraged ourselves, “Lots of our friends have tackled fixer-uppers. So can we!”

Spooky lived with his owner in a townhouse we visited. We entered through a stairwell hallway that led to the living area above the garage. “Don’t mind Spooky,” said Spooky’s master. “She likes people.” Spooky’s master was a rotund balding man wearing a white sleeveless undershirt and sweat pants. He lounged on a red leather couch in front of a 70 inch flat screen TV. Spooky was a tender-hearted cattle dog with congenital heterochromia iridis. Clearly, Spooky’s master had not moved from his perch recently. All about the floors were tales of Spooky—clumps of Spooky fur unswept, partially-eaten Spooky bones left to dry out, Spooky toys ignored.

We made our way around Spooky’s home and, can I tell you, we saw potential. Unlike the townhouse we had visited just before, Spooky’s home did not have an entire room devoted to Darth Maul and a note on the door leading into the garage, “Beware of cats.” We left Spooky’s home thinking it was definitely a top choice, if we could only sell ours. But no one wanted to buy our house years ago. And someone else bought Spooky’s.

Over the last few of months we have been at it again. Our house is on the market. Just like before, we desire to downsize our home and mortgage. Yet unlike last time, we are not looking at replacements until someone makes an acceptable offer. And that’s just it. No one has.

Yesterday I was talking with a friend. “You’re selling your house? I know someone who just sold his. One day on the market. Cash offer for way more than he was asking.” I have heard this kind of story for several months now. Another friend described the scene at the house of a person he knows, “A half-dozen couples violently bidding against each other and house sold by 6 p.m.—first day.”

Whenever I hear these stories I think, even Spooky’s house eventually sold. What is wrong with ours? And so Leanne and I have burdened the responsibility of our house not selling. Before each showing we feverishly vacuum pet fur. We scrub the bamboo floors and kitchen tile. We arrange the throw blankets and pillows as if preparing a “Cozy Home” board on Pinterest.

Nothing. Not even a lowball offer. And so we have tried harder. Scrubbed more. Removed furniture to make the house look larger. Before each showing we hide the toaster and coffee maker in cabinets to make the kitchen counters look spacious.


A couple weeks ago Leanne got some empowering advice about the matter. “Stand down,” the person said. “Quit trying so hard.”

I do not think Leanne’s advice-giver knew about Spooky, but if she had then she might have reminded her that we were planning to buy Spooky’s home despite the fact that Spooky had done everything in her canine power to make the deal an unattractive prospect. Spooky’s home was gag-worthy. But that would not have stopped us. Because sometimes a person is not after what is cleanest or pet free or most spacious or walking distance from top schools or at the end of a cul-de-sac or a home that you treasure because your beautiful daughters have grown up in it and they have turned out to be such wonderful people. Sometimes a person just wants four full bedrooms, instead of three plus a loft.

Maybe God is teaching us something, some fruit of the Spirit like patience or self-control or gentleness or perhaps righteous indignation. Or maybe he’s just teaching us the fundamental fact of life, “You cannot solve this—any of this—by your effort. Stand down!”

I sure wish whatever I did would seal the deal, though. Put in effort X get out result Y. In my brighter moments I know that is not how it works. A euphemism for “Stand down!” is “Lord have mercy!”


Dave is an author, educator, and advocate of living simply. Dave has spoken nationally and internationally about simplicity. He has appeared in Time Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, the London Times, and The Guardian, and has been a guest of the 700 Club. His book The 100 Thing Challenge (HarperCollins, 2010) tells the story of his simple-living journey and the worldwide movement it contributed to. Dave holds an M.A. from Wheaton College and a B.A. from Moody Bible Institute. He works at Point Loma Nazarene University and lives in San Diego with his wife and three daughters.


  1. David Axberg

    Acts 17:26-27 “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the Earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”

  2. Margret

    Greetings, David!

    In my more than 25 years of walking with the Lord, I’ve seen and/or experienced this many times over. Each time, I become more firmly convinced that God delights in being intimately involved in the details of our lives, just as the Bible tells us: “People do their best making plans for their lives, but the Eternal guides each step.” ~ Proverbs 16:9, the Voice

    For example, half a decade ago we wanted to buy a house in a mountain town but the deal fell through, even though we were the first choice of the owner. Another’s offer was accepted but something prevented their purchase so the owner returned it to the market. Again, we tried; and again, no dice. What we didn’t realize at the time was this was the Lord’s doing. We loved mountain life (and still do) but the Lord wanted us back in the valley, so He wasn’t letting the deal go through.

    The One who loves us most knows what we need and though we long to return to the mountains and you desire a smaller abode God has something else in mind, either for the betterment of our characters, to help someone else grasp lessons they’re meant to learn, or both. And we may not even know what those lessons are until it’s our turn to go Home.

    As you settle into that peace beyond the understanding of circumstance, I pray your joy may be full in the present even while you continue to dream, because He places those dreams in our hearts as well.

    All of Heaven’s best to you and yours.

  3. Rebecca D. Martin

    I feel like all I have heard are the fast-and-easy success stories, and our house-selling story is not among them. Your story is helpful and heartening. Thank you for telling it.

  4. Lindsey Murphy

    We recently sold our house after years of trying/fretting/manipulating/more trying. Standing on this side, I will tell you that I’m so thankful for all of the “no’s” along the way. I often drive by other houses I tried so hard to get, and the one that the Lord was preparing for us blew them all out of the water. The waiting is not fun, but standing on this side of the battle I can say it was worth it. Hang in there, guys.

    (p.s. our house was a tiny 3/1 that was priced a little higher than the rest. after 20+ showings, it sold while we were on vacation. no pillow fluffing and dusting involved.)

  5. Nicole McLernon

    I think this concept applies to more than just houses. I have asked the Lord for a specific thing for years and He continues to gently and kindly answer “No.” However, my mom consistently reminds me that it is no good striving for something that He will give me in His own time. Striving for gifts is pointless.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Dave Bruno

    Thanks for all the comments. Nicole, I think you’re right. There are quite a few things in our family life right now that we cannot solve. Only by God’s grace do we get anywhere in life, be it home sales or anything else.

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