I have labeled the most recent period of my life “the box years.” I have been either packing boxes, hauling boxes, reorganizing boxes, or unpacking boxes. These boxes contain items I have collected, items I value, or items that cannot be replaced. I have spent a lot of time, money, and effort on packing, storing, and moving boxes of stuff.
Recently I made another cross-country trip in a U-Haul full of stuff. Virtually every time I travel back to Minnesota, I return with a load of personal items. For two years I have been wistfully referring to my possessions, which I had left behind, either in storage or at a homestead. It was like I was in a foreign land without anything familiar around me. How would new friends, in this foreign land, get to know me know me without my stuff as a backdrop?
Until moving I didn’t realize how much, or more importantly, why these things were so important to me. As a Christian I was chagrined that I was so attached to material things. Jesus told the rich young ruler that he should sell all of his possessions and give his wealth to the poor if he wanted to follow Christ, and that by doing so he would be storing up treasures in heaven (Mk 10:21, Lk 18:22;12:33; Mt 19:21). Indeed, during the decades that I collected and care for my precious items, I would say how little I cared for the material things in my life. I would pray, giving everything back to the God, the Provider of those material blessings I enjoyed. I also talked with others regarding the enslavement and servitude that too much stuff demanded. I now realize that it was easy to make such pronouncements when I had those things around me. It was a whole different matter when I found myself alone. I didn’t even have a coat the first winter away from home (more about that in another post).
I tried not thinking about the inconsistency between what I had told others, what I believed, what I was feeling, and what I wanted. Yes, I felt somewhat guilty about placing so much importance on stuff, but my need for the familiar was overpowering. I didn’t ask myself whether I was trying to retain control of my own life and manipulate outcomes, rather than abide in Christ — even though I prayed for God’s help and for His will in my life. I did not ponder if I was looking to those possessions for security or meaning, rather than looking at my possessions as blessings that can help fulfill my role in God’s kingdom.
So, there I was surrounded by an avalanche of moving-paper, boxes, and general disorganized chaos. As I carefully unwrapped one item after another, memories flooded my mind. As I fought to repress these memories, and busy myself with the task at hand, tears came steaming down my face. I did not expect that such small things could have such a major impact. But these tears were not tears of joy over beautiful possessions. These were tears of unbidden memories of people, places, and events – each recalling the gift of love, in one way or another.
As I withdrew one item after another out of the boxes, I would recall specific moments in my past that were associated with those items. I would remember when I had received these things from people no longer here, sometimes when I could not afford to buy the items myself. I remembered lovingly hanging a picture or reorganizing furniture; all for the love of my family, and in making a home. I recalled long-forgotten people, holidays, and fragrances. Most of all I recalled the love within my relationships that each treasured item represented. The memories came flooding across my mind’s eye and I could not stop the tears. I longed to be surrounded by those people and those feelings. It was then that I understood the true value of these items. Possessions or fame are empty, and cannot bring us happiness nor peace, but they can drive us further away from God. These things I was unwrapping were only representations of the riches I already had.
What I did not realize these past couple of years was that I already had everything I needed, even if my possessions were half-way across the country. I have the love of my family, I carry love letters from my heavenly Father in His book, and I have Christ — Who gave His life in payment for something I could never afford to purchase for myself (Eph 2:8-9). He has always been with me, as promised – and He, above anyone else understood the loneliness and heartache I felt in the past few years in a “foreign land.” I have a relationship with my God, and I am never alone. As for friends getting to know me without the backdrop of my possessions – they are not my friends because of stuff, but rather they are my friends because of the love between us, and the authentic relationships we treasure.
After the tears dried, and my heart was no longer constricted by the flood of memories, I resumed the task of putting together another home, using my possessions, with even more love than I had before. As I did so, I recommitted everything to the One who gave it all to me. Once again, He used the things of this world to teach me eternal lessons – lessons I will carry with me forever. Sometimes, like horse in a race, we have blinders on. We become so focused on achieving one goal, in my case it was creating a beautiful home – and an environment in which I felt comfortable — we forget to see all that He is doing around us.
I thank God that through His Creation (including my stuff), and through our weaknesses, if we abide in Him, He will make Scripture come alive and be relevant in every situation to light our path along this difficult journey we call life (Isaiah 42:16).