Jesus and Stuff

Stuff Hides, Stuff Begets Stuff, Stuff is Heavy. Okay, that’s a lot of “stuff”, I know, but stick with me. This past week my family did a “stuff purge”. A few times a year we go through the house and fill up bags with clothes we don’t wear, games we no longer play, movies we don’t watch, and other things that have begun to collect dust. We take these items to Trinity Mission, our local resale shop (which also helps fund a local residential men’s substance abuse program). We started a few years ago, originally as part of a financial health plan. We had read that keeping your stuff pruned back has several financial benefits. It turns out that it also has spiritual benefits. The financial part can be summed up like this:

Stuff Hides. The more excess items you accumulate, the more likely you will lose track of the stuff you have. The result is you end up buying duplicates of what you already have. Lose the stuff, and you keep a better and more efficient inventory. You spend less money, and you spend it more wisely.

Stuff Begets Stuff. Have you ever read the children’s book “If You Give a Pig a Pancake”? In short, it starts with giving a pig a pancake, which leads to the need for syrup, butter, a bath, a trip outside so he can work off his energy, etc. etc. How often does our stuff require more stuff to maintain it, to keep it upgraded, or to store it? Technology and entertainment devices can be especially demanding. You need a Blu-Ray player, which leads to an HDTV, which leads to a new sound system and replacing all your DVD’s, and on and on. This cycle obviously leads to spending more money, and the expense for the initial purchase was only the beginning.

Stuff is Heavy. Excess stuff in our lives creates extra burdens. In a world where we have more gadgets at our fingertips that promise “convenience” and “freedom”, we are actually more stressed out than ever. A recent study from Carnegie Mellon Institute showed stress levels up 10 to 30 percent (compared to a study in 1983) in adults over the age of 18. Those under the age of 35 experienced the highest rates of stress. Keeping up with our stuff, not just technology, but our excess possessions can greatly complicate our lives, not to mention, the financial debt that often comes along with stuff magnifies the problem, and can leave us feeling suffocated under the weight.. of our stuff.

And that’s where the spiritual part comes in.

If you read the Gospels you can’t get away from the fact that Jesus actually had to quite a bit to say about “stuff”, and what He says is pretty demanding. Basically He tells us we are to strive more and more to be less and less attached to our possessions, because they pass away. Some of the most difficult passages in scripture deal with Jesus’ unwavering and direct teaching about attachment to possessions and wealth. He once told a rich young man “if you want to be perfect, go sell all your possessions and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matt. 19:16-30). He says that we cannot serve God and “mammon”, which means “material wealth or greed” (Matt. 6:24). Jesus’ teaching on the importance we place on our “stuff” is crystal clear – Material things are not evil, God grants us provisions for our life, which are good. It is even good to receive these provisions with gratitude, and to rejoice in His goodness to us. But we are not to hold tightly to these things or hoard them to ourselves, thinking that they grant us security. When we do this, we are making idols of things that will pass away.

For most of us, selling everything is not a feasible option. We have responsibilities, families to care for. Scripture is also filled with wisdom to guide one towards the right use of wealth, and the way to be lead a home responsibly, which includes acquiring the needed material things. For most of us, though, it is good to “take inventory” on a regular basis, and consider what place our “stuff” has taken in our lives. Is our stuff hiding? Have we become lazy in our spiritual lives to where we don’t even think about the importance and consequences of how we spend our money? Is our stuff begetting stuff? Do we feel the need to “keep up” with the latest thing, spending money we don’t have and neglecting those who might be in need of the very basics around us? Is our stuff getting heavy? Do we find ourselves more anxious and stressed out? Are we spending so much time “plugged into it” that we don’t have time for real personal interactions with those around us?

Jesus’ commands about our “stuff” are not meant to deprive us, but to free us – Free us to be present to our community, those closest to us, free us to be aware of the needs around us, so that we might give and become more alive in that giving.

I admit, I didn’t like doing the “stuff purge” at first. It was hard. I’m by no means perfect, but I have to say, after a few years of trying it, I’m actually starting to like getting rid of stuff. There is a great sense of freedom in saying, “I don’t need this.” There is also satisfaction in helping to support Trinity Mission, a local ministry just down the road from my house and my church that is changing lives for the better and making our community a healthier place.