This morning I was driving along the main road of our municipality to pick up something from Tim Horton’s. At several places along the side of the road, there were yard sales. People hoping to rid themselves of items they no longer want or need.
Recently I helped my twin sons clean their room. A number of things went to the curb for garbage day, including stuff we had once purchased and imbued with value. Things our sons haven’t used or needed in a long time.
And, dare I say, in my basement there are still–still!–several boxes that remain unpacked from moving here seven years ago. Yes, you heard me correctly. And how sad is that? Clearly, the stuff in those boxes is very important to us. I should rent one of those dumpsters that I sometimes see people use after a basement has been flooded and they need to toss away all the damaged items.
Even now, when my wife and I are thinking about what to get our kids for Christmas or for their birthdays, we take into consideration the space we have in our home and whether or not the gift will be of genuine value and worth spending money on. Or will it end up on the curb sooner than later? Caveat emptor, indeed.
Sometimes, of course, we keep stuff for sentimental reasons. We hold onto special items which remind us, for example, of our late parents. Things often hold our memories. They tell our history. We have three storage containers–one for each of our kids–that contain examples of school work, report cards, art, etc.
All in all, we definitely have a relationship with our stuff. Our things are one of the ways we signal to others who we are–or who we want people to think we are. This is true whether we’re speaking of the clothes we wear, the books on our shelves, or the trinkets and novelty items we collect and display.
This makes me think of this parable Jesus told:
“A rich man’s land was very productive. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.”‘ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared-whose will they be?’ “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”Luke 12:16-21
The guy in this parable has upside down priorities. His vision was entirely earth-bound. He was spiritually myopic. Jesus effectively unveils how we can become very easily attached to and distracted by material possessions.
Think about it: how many of us have storage sheds, storage closets, or whole rooms dedicated to storing stuff we don’t really use?
But we might use it. You never know. Better to hang onto it. Just in case.
As I was driving by the various yard sales this morning, I pretty much knew that stopping to check them out was a bad idea for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t really need anything at any of these yard sales. Two, I probably wouldn’t find anything that I really want at these yard sales. But just in case I might, I remind myself of my first reason for not stopping.
Seeing these yard sales also made me realize a good reason for not having my own yard sale. Most items at most yard sales don’t get bought. I’m guessing. Which means that if it’s your yard sale, you have to bring everything you tried to sell but didn’t back into your house. That’s a lot of back and forth to try and get rid of some stuff. My curb is much closer and more convenient.
I have the sneaking suspicion that when it comes to stuff–my stuff, for instance–that two things are true. First, I would find it hard to part with a good portion of my stuff. What if I want it later? After all, I spent money on that! The truth is, when we hold onto our stuff, often our stuff holds onto us. Second, if I were to get rid of some stuff that I find it harder to part with, I really doubt I would miss it all that much. Ironic, isn’t it?
Nowadays I’m a little more circumspect when it comes to shopping. Do I really need this? Will it be well used and serve a valuable purpose in our home? Or will it instead be one more item that ends up neglected and taking up space? If I find it hard to get rid of some stuff because I feel guilty for having spent money on something I don’t really use, that should make me more cautious about buying new stuff.
Not only that, but I want to be more self-aware of my motivations. When I was younger, I would sometimes shop just to shop. You know how it is. You go to Wal-Mart (or when I was growing up Zellers or K-Mart) or whereever, not because you have specific things you need to buy. You’re window shopping. Just looking around. I’m more aware than I used to be that the impulse to spend and buy is often rooted in a longing for meaning, for identity, for happiness, for peace. Because we all know the initial excitement of getting something new. There’s that little buzz we feel. The new thing we’ve bought gives us pleasure and distracts us from the deeper feelings of pain and loss. But of course that fades. And many people, when this happens, go shopping again.
Did I mention that I very nearly hate going to Wal-Mart these days?
Like Jesus says through his parable, when we are focused on our material possessions we are at risk of putting ourselves in spiritual peril. But when we are instead rich toward God, even the things we do have and keep no longer hold onto us. So, yes, enjoy some of your stuff for what it is. Don’t count on it to be what it can never be. And get rid of whatever things have become more of a burden than a blessing in your life. If it keeps you from trusting in and loving God, it’s best not to have it at all. Because, as Jesus says elsewhere, For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.