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Lenten Thoughts: Stuff

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There used to be a show on TV where a team invaded a pack rat’s home and decluttered them. They typically picked two rooms in the home to clear and reorganize. It was called “Clean Sweep.” I watched it regularly, hoping to catch some hope for my own over-packed home. Secretly, I must confess I hoped they would show up on my doorstep.

There have been times in our lives when in preparation for a move, my husband has taken the lead in helping us declutter and downsize. He also did this as he faced surgery last year and the subsequent loss of his job. But he didn’t just clean out and downsize our stuff, he also downsized our bills and our spending. His ability to do this a good thing and I’m impressed daily and blessed by his commitment to the project.

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I remember watching him work his magic. Right before we moved the last time, he took a course on improving our financial situation and it truly inspired him. He found resources to sell my books and he got good money for them. I went through the shelves and pulled out boxes and boxes of books that I no longer used and couldn’t foresee needing in the future.

Watching him gleefully sell the books hit me unusually hard. I chose the books to get rid of. I made the decision to let go. But that night it wasn’t books I saw going. It was dream. It was hope. It was me. And in that moment, I understood some of the tears that I saw people shed on “Clean Sweep” as the crew worked to wrench open their hands to release their hold on stuff that was squeezing the life out of them.

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Part of the problem for these people, and sometimes for me, is that we find our identity in our things. The things we keep take on meaning and symbolism that never was intended. For example, I had lots of books, therefore I was smart. I always wanted lovely furniture because I thought it would tell people coming into my home I have taste. I have three chairs in my living room, several Nerf guns, and dog bones. It’s pretty easy to see who gets welcomed here. Around my dining room table there are no fancy chairs. We use plastic lawn chairs. They work inside and out.  As a result, I live with an odd tension between what is and what I wish could be.

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Thinking through this I was reminded of Paul’s message to the Philippians. He’s been assuring them of his pedigree when he tells them what he really values: “7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him (Phil. 3:7-9a, NLT).”

Having books doesn’t necessarily mean I’m smart. Having nice furniture in an impressive house doesn’t mean I’ve got it all together. I am not my stuff. And having stuff or wanting stuff (or more stuff), if not held in the proper perspective when it comes to my relationship with Christ is just clutter and crap. Paul went so far as to call it dung. When we get a hold on this and it gets a real hold on us, we will find so much more room in our heart for God. Letting go of our stuff, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, opens us up—frees us to receive more of Christ. And what he has to give us is so much better than the garbage we’ve been holding onto.

Is it time for a clean sweep in your heart? I’m working on mine.
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