“What about Quentin’s new bike?”
“What about Quentin’s swing set?”
The initial phone call about the opportunity to serve in New Zealand came on the same day as Quentin’s third birthday party. We were busy decorating and setting up. Jaron’s phone rang in the middle of a last minute run to the grocery store. He didn’t tell me about the phone call until after the presents had been unwrapped, cupcakes eaten, Max the (real-live) Horse had been ridden, and the party guests had left. The very first thought that popped into my head was, “What about Quentin’s new bike?” My parents had just gotten him a vintage-looking radio flyer with training wheels and a super cool helmet for his birthday.
To be perfectly honest, the very first thoughts that both Jaron and I had in regards to moving to New Zealand involved our stuff. I am embarrassed to admit it, but before I even shed a tear over the relationships that would change, I cried over all of the nice things and great house that we would have to sacrifice. We work very hard not to let money control us. We live below our means. We drive 10+ year old cars. We give a lot and save a lot.
But suddenly, I saw myself as the rich young ruler. And the image was alarming.
In Matthew 19: 16-22, a man asks Jesus what good thing he must do to get eternal life. Jesus says, “If you want to enter life, then keep the commandments.”
“Which ones,” the man asks.
Jesus rattles off a list of commandments, perhaps as if stating the obvious, ending with, “love your neighbor as yourself.”
“I’ve done all of these things,” the man insists. “What else do I lack?”
“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus answered, “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
The man walked away, feeling sad, because he had great wealth.
Um…yeah…its brutal isn’t it? The parallels are undeniable. Change the man in this story to a woman, and that was me. The truth is, even on our pastor’s income, we have great wealth, resources at our disposal that most of the world cannot even fathom. And I knew that we had to give it all up.
That’s not the only place I’ve been hearing this message lately. Over the past several months, we’ve been journeying through the Book of Revelation as a church. It’s been hopeful, fascinating, and incredibly challenging. And over and over again, John addresses the idols of our own making, the prostitute that is the empire, the glitter and glam of the world that tempts and distracts and vies for our allegiance. That phone call brought all of the images of Revelation rushing back at once. You can hear Jaron’s reflections on how Revelation 15:1-16:21 specifically speak to our process of letting go of stuff here.
My mom—one of the most faithful and generous women I know—is here this week. She has confessed to saying to herself as she sat on our back porch, “It’s just a house.” And, as we placed more things in the “sell” pile than the “store” or “take” piles, she has whispered, “It’s just stuff. It’s just stuff.” While it’s not even her stuff, it feels like a sacrifice to her too.
The bottom line is that as Americans it is way easier than we care to think or admit to let our stuff, our desire for stuff, or our pursuit of stuff determine how we use our resources. In the end, we’re planning to take Quentin’s bike with us, but his swing set and many other things that we have enjoyed will go to a new set of owners. We are grateful for our stuff, but we can never allow ourselves to be in a position where our stuff or the pursuit of stuff keeps us from responding in faithful obedience to God’s call on our lives.