Sunday, April 1, 2012

You Can't Take It With You

Even as a baby, Hannah had boxes of books to unpack after a move. 
You should see the rest of our bookshelves...


 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
 
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
 
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
 
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.
Luke 18:18-23 (NIV)

I've been thinking a lot about stuff. My lots and lots of stuff, to be exact. I really love my stuff. Do you love yours?

Remember the story of the rich ruler? This rich man asks Jesus how to gain eternal life. He's been a good person, and followed all the commandments, he says. Jesus tells him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The guy is sad because he's so rich, and he goes away. He can't do it. His stuff counts for too much.

Shortly after we were married, Jonathan was studying this, and he called me at work to say, "I think this is a really important verse. What if Jesus said that to us? That we should sell all we have and give the money away?"

As you know, I'm practically Mother Teressa, so I said, "Of course, dear. When's the yard sale?"

Yeah right.

I said, "We just got a queen sized mattress. Are you nuts? I'm not giving away my stuff. Besides, by some standards, we are poor. Maybe someone will give money to us!"

Well, it's some years later. I still very much appreciate our larger bed. But Jonathan's question has stayed with me all these years. (He, on the other hand, doesn't remember the conversation.) I often wonder what it would be like if we had less, if we lived more simply, if less of my life was dedicated to the acquisition of and care for THINGS.

I knew a woman who was called to overseas mission work, and she sold or gave away almost everything she owned. She reduced her entire household to a trunk filled with only the most important mementos: some things that had belonged to her parents, and a few precious keepsakes from her children's growing-up. Could I do that?

On the other hand, these things that are so important to us may not be treasure to anyone else. I recently watched the TV show Hoarders for the first time, and was amazed by the real, emotional attachment people had with their stuff. I'm not a hoarder - you can even see the floors in my closets - but I really do have a deep attachment to many of my things.

As I was pondering all of this, I remembered someone we knew whose husband had a really impressive library. The kind of library I dream about, with floor-to-ceiling shelves full of books. A whole room of books. Just think about all that knowledge! It makes me excited just thinking about it!

The man died, and his wife was left with the task of doing something with all those books. She called the public library, and they came and took many volumes for their shelves. The she called us and offered any books we wanted. She thought we'd be interested because he had a large selection of books on religion. And she was right. We left her house with boxes of books. And she was disappointed because it looked like we had hardly made a dent. What was she going to do with all those books?

(Jonathan reminds me that in a few years, my dream of a home library will be obsolete, and our kids will think I'm nuts because I collected paper books. I would hit him over the head with a Kindle, but then I remember how expensive it is to move...27 boxes of books during our last transition.)

The point is, this man spent a lifetime accumulating books, which he read and enjoyed, but the library was important only to him. No one else wanted it in its entirety.

What about all the things I love so much? A porcelain piano figurine I bought in Spain, but is now broken and in box in the attic? A piece of needlework my grandmother painstakingly stitched, but looks too 1970's to display? A shelf of music books that I used to love to play, but now sit collecting dust in the bedroom (the only use our piano gets these days is from the Disney Movie Songbook)? No one wants that stuff. I'm not even sure if I want that stuff. But it's my stuff. I've moved it eleven times. I need it, right?

No, I don't need it. But, I want it. I recently discovered this wonderful advice from William Morris: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." My mementos are beautiful to me (even if only to me). The man's library was useful to him...and in small doses, to others as well.

I think that this matter, like so many others, is about balance. I want my house to be full of useful and beautiful things, so that doesn't mean narrow it down to a steamer trunk. It simply means to eliminate the fluff.

I think I would be happier with less fluff.

Now excuse me, while I go rearrange my bookshelf...

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