Sisters and brothers, are you in a season of acquiring or in a season of letting go? When I was expecting, I was flabbergasted at the amount of kid paraphernalia that was advertised to us. Somehow, we simply weren’t up to snuff as parents if we didn’t acquire the latest in baby monitors, safety gadgets, rockers, and baby equipment, all designed to supposedly make having a small, crying, human being less of a disruption to daily life as you know it, and more of an excuse to stock up on little jars of organic mashed peas and Pampers.
And the advertisers marketed on parental anxiety: hand-me-downs and castoffs were deemed dangerous; most parents eschewed the lack of documentation on said used items and dreaded potential safety recalls, and so, we bought new, just to have some assurance of our little one’s safety.
But then we had twins and it seemed as if the marketing folks knew we were pregnant before we did. Everything doubled up—including the stress. At one point, we had hundreds of diapers bought at Costco packed in cases, floor to ceiling, in our small unfinished basement. We were quickly overwhelmed with baby goods and the kids had not even arrived. My husband was a venerable pack rat and fix it guy, and I was more of a worried purge-r with a touch of hoarding DNA. I don’t exactly know how we managed, but we somehow ended up with a bigger car, a bigger budget, and much bigger closet space.
But we managed to also let go of some things too. We let go of the understanding that we’d have everything under control. We’d had a child who had defied every safety precaution in the book and didn’t come home to use the latest and greatest of new and improved, naturally-finished cribs. We let go of a bunch of things that we had outgrown on our separate journeys to parenthood. In my husband’s case, he let go of his grief around the parent that he might have been during the first round with his now grown children. He wanted the chance to do things over, and he wanted to make it different, better, and so let go of his regret to make room for something new and lifegiving. In my case, I let go of the identity that I had carefully built over the years and tried to figure out what it meant to be known as a mom and not simply a pastor, student, or a young professional. However, as a couple, we kept acquiring things: toys for the kids, gadgets for the adults, and every kind of safety device thinking that it would protect our kids and us from the storms and awfulness of life.
Of course, it did not. That was the shocker, that all of this baby stuff, all of this letting go, all of this upsizing our lives and downsizing our dreams, it didn’t protect us. Illness still came. The unexpected still happened. We still had times that we felt bereft, alone, and worried.
So, maybe I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to the KonMari Method. Marie Kondo and her books about tidying up and letting go of our “stuff” is hot right now. I, too, have read her books and followed some of her advice. For those of you who don’t know, the KonMari method encourages you to keep only the things—the possessions—in your life that spark joy. Belongings are acknowledged for their service – and thanked before being let go, should they no longer spark joy. Yes, you thank the lamp for bringing light and then you say a healthy and hearty goodbye to it. There is something to the fact that Kondo’s book, among many others on organizing, decluttering, and minimalizing our possessions are flying off bookstore shelves. With our patterns of overconsumption and accumulation, it is no wonder that we, Americans, are trying to manage how we can manage it all.
The truth is that our possessions, however big or little, however dear or cheap, point to a spiritual struggle that we face. Our possessions can own us, if we are not careful and judicious about curating our many and varied stockpiles of goods. So isn’t it most intriguing that Jesus says to us, “Do not be afraid,” right before he directs us to sell our possessions and give alms. The prophet’s selling advice provokes fear; God knows, it is hard to let go of our possessions, whether they spark joy or they don’t. Every photo frame, every worn knitted sweater, every baseball glove, every piece of square footage, and every notebook from our college days– they seem to be part of our identity and it can sometimes feel as if we are not just giving away our lamp, but our light too.
And I think that is where we might reclaim the treasure that is rightfully ours as children of a great and good God who is not trying to sell us something because we have a little one on the way or a new adventure on the horizon. We human beings forget that our hearts will follow whatever we value. If we think our treasure is in earthly things, then our attention and heart will be on those things, at the expense of more Godly values. What do we hold of worth and value? How we answer that question will show us where our heart is, and, I might add, where our soul is.
There are many of us who are drowning in our possessions and starving for relationships—authentic, deep, caring, rich, beautiful, healthy, and complex relationships that no amount of stuff can buy. We could sell our house and still be bereft of relationship. We could retain our house and all of its possessions but lose our connection to the community. We are creatures of habit and prey of creditors, and so we buy, collect, hoard, and store those things that keep us comfortable and in debt, when being a little more uncomfortable and unencumbered might help us to see the kingdom more clearly and experience it more readily. We make purses, plastics, shoes, appliances, gadgets, and gizmos that are designed to wear out, to become obsolete and disposable instead of designing and promoting sustainability and long-term investment. I am reminded of the guy that fixed my washer a few years back. It is very old and is reaching the end of its life span. “These old washers are so much better than the new ones,” he said. “They break down less often.”
“Sell your possessions,” says Jesus. And there is the crux. Here is a trust issue. Leave it to Jesus to show us our resistance, our growing edge, and our point of discomfort with our possessions, each other, and him. Leave it to Jesus to show where we have misplaced our trust. Do we trust God to provide for the day and the need, or do we stockpile for the future? Remember, in the desert, the manna that was left overnight was the manna that also spoiled. It would not keep. So the pages of unread books turn yellow, the film and photos grow brittle, the glue and paint become hard and useless, the batteries spoil and no longer work. There is an energy to this universe and it wants to flow. There is saving and there is hoarding; there is being thrifty and there is miserliness. We can generally tell the difference with others, but much less with ourselves. Where have we put our treasure, where have we put our value, and why have we put it there and not somewhere else?
Friends, the manna will not keep for another day, and you are also the manna that will not keep. Someday, despite the safety precautions of your parents, despite the barns that you are building, and the possessions that you are accumulating, you will join the heavenly angels.
So—friends, a modern-day parable. It is told by Benjamin Zander in The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life (Penguin, 2002):
“Four young men sit by the bedside of their dying father. The old man, with his last breath, tells them there is a huge treasure buried in the family fields.
The sons crowd around him crying, ‘Where, where?’ but it is too late.
The day after the funeral and for many days to come, the young men go out with their picks and shovels and turn the soil, digging deeply into the ground from one end of each field to the other.
They find nothing and, bitterly disappointed, abandon the search.