Anyone who has ever moved at any point in their life knows the truth. And the truth is this: If one had to choose between moving and being dragged behind a tractor on a gravel road, naked, through a hail storm, then one would have to think long and hard before making a decision. I’d be tempted to try a root canal without novocaine rather than move.
Yet, here I sit, just a couple of weeks removed from the experience of moving. Again. My wife and I have been married for almost 24 years, and we’ve moved nine times. (Yes, nine times!). To some, we’re a couple of lightweights, but averaging a move every three years is still no picnic.
This time, however, was different. We moved from a 2000+ square foot house to a 940 sq. ft. apartment, and we haven’t lived in an apartment since 1991. Yeah, you could call it a life change, one that involved the Garage Sale of the Century last month.
Not only have we lived in houses for most of our married life, but our homes have grown progressively larger over the years. We’ve always had plenty of living space AND the ever-elusive and all-important storage space. In fact, we’ve had storage space to spare. And what do us humans do when we have extra space?
We fill it.
So our house was packed to the ceiling with stuff, much of which had not seen the light of day since our last move in 2007. This time, we had no extra space, so a lot of this stuff had to go. (Okay, we DID get a 10×10 storage unit, but still…)
What I learned at that garage sale was a lesson that I wish I had learned a long time ago. Most of the “stuff” that I’ve accumulated is not stuff that I need. Not by a long shot. In fact, we don’t even need a lot of the stuff that we kept. As we looked around for houses prior to giving in to the apartment life for a while (perhaps a looooong while), we talked about the stuff we once thought that we “had” to have. We HAD to have a two-car, enclosed garage. We HAD to have three bedrooms, minimum. We HAD to have plenty of attic storage. We HAD to have a bonus room.
But did we?
Somewhere along the way, during the sale preparations, I realized that I probably did not need six pennants from the Steelers win in Super Bowl XL. One might be enough. Perhaps we didn’t need the three extra book cases or the box of metal shelves that we never opened. And we can probably even live without the 17 plug-in Christmas window candles that were in the attic, which allowed us to choose between a variety of options every Holiday season.
Now, do I WANT all that stuff? Absolutely! This is not some self-righteous minimalist diatribe where I’m bragging about all the stuff that I “gave up” to move out of our house. It’s the exact opposite. This is a full-blown confession that I am an absolutely worldly, materialistic person that is a bit furious at having to give up his Man Cave in which to watch football and display his sports memorabilia. In fact, I’m a little ticked off right now that I can’t find my autographed picture of Mike Ditka.
But this is the point of change, of allowing our heart and soul to be challenged by the things that we would rather not do. This is how we are sharpened to realize that our needs are always significantly less than our wants.
During the yard sale, a grandmother was scouring our junk for toys to keep at her house for the grandchildren. She found the toy to end all toys: The Mighty Mo. This force beyond nature was unstoppable big yellow dump truck that hauled everything from army men going into battle to equipment for my sister’s Barbie house. Hey, the chicks dig the Mighty Mo.
As I showed the couple that the truck still worked, I got pretty nostalgic. I wasn’t sure I wanted to give it up. After all, you could still wind this thing up and let it run over obstacles in the living room, right?
While I had no real desire to let go of this piece of my childhood, somewhere deep down I realized how silly this was. It’s never a bad thing to have memories, but we cannot hang on endlessly to the things that provide those memories. What possible good could the Mighty Mo do stashed in a storage unit? Are the memories gone just because I don’t have the physical presence of a piece of molded plastic?
This is the point where the theological reflection kicked in for me. How do we learn to give up our wants in order to better meet our needs?
The truth is that we often make a choice to put ourselves under certain burdens in order to hang on to more stuff. We don’t care for the challenge that comes with moving on to something new and away from the things that once had meaning, even great meaning, for us. We assume that most things in life are a “must”, when they may not meet even the most broad definition of a need.
Most of the world survives, or even thrives, with far less than 940 sq. ft. of living space. In some cultures, the idea of personal space is a foreign concept. Many of these cultures don’t have reliable running water or electricity, much less unknown concepts like central heat and air.
Certainly, my sacrifices are minor compared to what others must endure, and probably shouldn’t even be characterized as a “sacrifice” at all. What I call a loss might actually be a luxury to major chunks of humanity.
I don’t begrudge anyone who has material possessions, because I often wish that I was that person. Perhaps others manage their “stuff” much better than I did, so it’s not a spiritual drag on their lives. My hope is to find the discipline, somewhere in relationship to Christ, to be more than satisfied with what I have, because it’s more than enough. The most meaningful part of the journey is to be with my family, the people of my church, friends, colleagues, and those that God has placed in my life for any number of unknown reasons. And we believe that cutting down on the clutter is helping us do that.
As the church, we often struggle with this Needs vs. Wants issue. Do we need that bulletin, that costs $10,000 a year to print? Do we need our own personalized Sunday School rooms? Do we need that pew that we like to call “ours”? (And if you don’t think that still exists, just sit in someone’s favorite spot one Sunday).
The church, as the Body of Christ, as little to do with personal space or preferred seating or our desired, familiar way of doing things. It is all about recognizing that the people of God are the church of God, and therefore need to be less beholden to “stuff”. We need to be moved by the Spirit of God. We certainly don’t need any extra baggage to weigh us down…we are more than a big enough load by ourselves!
When God challenges us to trim down aspects of our lives, it is uncomfortable to the point of being painful. But we all have to endure that, in some aspect of life, if we ever hope to be healthy in our relationship to the Living Christ. If we will allow ourselves to go through this, we are certain to come out better, stronger and more prepared to spiritually grow (John 15). If we are willing, then our gain will be so much greater than anything we might have lost.