I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff lately.
Recently I was reading a blog written by a woman who possibly loves books as much as I do. She was discussing how her kids think that it’s normal to have bookshelves as the main decorating scheme in their house, and how people always give suggestions when they see how many books and bookshelves she has. Why don’t you get a public library card? Don’t you hate dusting all those shelves? How do you keep the books in any state of organization? She wrote that she loved dusting her shelves and organizing the books, because she felt very much like a dragon in its lair, wallowing in its treasure.
This statement hit far too close to home.
It was a mirror held up in which I could see myself, and I did not like what I saw.
Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or – worse! – stolen by burglars, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19, MSG).
Lugging your belongings on your back up and down mountains, across a country, through the heat of the day and in the middle of summer seems like a good way to become less concerned with how much you have and more concerned with “throwing off every weight that hinders”. You’ve already read my basic packing list: something to wear, something to sleep in, something to stay clean with, and room for food and water in my backpack.
However, learning simplicity in “regular life” doesn’t seem so easy to do. I’ve always thought that I’m not really a “stuff” kind of person. I regularly go through my things, culling and re-organizing. I am not a keeper of things, not sentimental about stuff the way some people are (*ahem* like my packrat sister *ahem*).
Isn’t it obvious? Jesus says. The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being (v 21).
Well, yes, Jesus – when you put it like that, it does seem rather obvious. But what do I DO to store up treasure in heaven? When I find out my heart isn’t so unaffected by all the things that I have, what do I DO?
I think I have my first step right in front of me: take only one (small and light) backpack’s worth of belongings to another country, travelling in a way that makes me remember that less is better. That should be a good start to figuring out just how much I can do without.
But I don’t think that’s enough. So I will ponder this question a whole lot more while on the way.
You see, when a rich young man comes to Jesus asking what he should do to have eternal life, Jesus tells him he should keep the commandments. When the man says that he has done so, Jesus tells him that if he wants to be perfect (or complete, depending on your translation), that he should sell everything he has and give the money to the poor, giving him treasure in heaven instead; then he should come and follow Jesus.
That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go (Matt 19:22 MSG).
I’m not trying to get into a discussion about how to interpret the Bible and whether or not Jesus’ directions hold true for all of us today.
But I will say simply this:
I am holding on tightly to a lot of things, and I need to learn to let go.
Richard Foster has a list of suggestions for learning to live in simplicity.
I’ve adapted it for myself here (although if you cross reference, you’ll see I’ve just lifted some of his statements directly), particularly trying to make some statements more specific:
- Shun anything that distracts from seeking first the Kingdom of God (Matt 6:33).
- Reject anything that produces an addiction in me.
- Appreciate books for their ideas and beauty and usefulness.
- Stop collecting books just to have more, and to hold a sense of superiority or achievement.
- One in, one out: If anyone gives me a book, I will read and appreciate it as a gift. Then I will decide if it stays or goes. If it stays on my bookshelves, another book must go to make room for it. (I have totally filled up my bookshelves, so I need to get rid of books if I accept any more!)
- Learn to differentiate between “need” and “want”. Buy only what is needed.
- Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
- Develop a habit of giving things away. Look for opportunities to bless others.
- Live debt free.
- Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
Any other ideas? Any suggestions of how you work to free your heart from the tyranny of stuff?
(Just a PS to my packrat sister: I didn’t name you, so don’t hate me. And you know how much I love you!)