Stuff and storms
The real storage war is the one is our head. Suddenly, we're the nation of stuff. Most of us have too much of it. And, shipwrecks happen when we're so full of it we can't navigate the treacherous currents of the times.
Storage units are another metaphor of our times. One in ten Americans families pay for a space in the 2.3 billion square feet of the 51,000 storage facilities in the United States. While most of the world lives in squalor and barely own clothes on their backs, Americans are trying to find better and better ways to store our stuff. Some of us have become hoarders while others stoke the inner fires of pickers who like to purchase and then re-sell their accumulated junque. Mostly, however, we're just people who treasure our treasures or value our time.
Confession time. Harriet and I have a storage unit. We've had it since we downsized from three-bedroom house to a three-bedroom apartment to a three-bedroom condo, all since 2001. Our stuff is comprised of three categories: junk that we don't care about one iota and would give away tomorrow; some items we value and will keep; and, there are things we want Liz and Scott and the grandchildren to have whenever they can take them. We've donated loads of stuff to yard sales and gives, to couples raising funds for mission work or adoption, or just about any other worthwhile cause. Our unit doesn't signal our love of things as much as our love of time. We just haven't taken the time to get rid of most of it. Of course, that makes time one of the more precious stuff categories in our inventory.
Two Bible incidents emphasize lightening the load, both involving ships. In Jonah 1:5 the mariners "...hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them" (ESV). Then, Apostle Paul and his companions, in Acts 27: 18-19, attempted to stay afloat in a horrendous storm, "...they began the next day to jettison the cargo. And on the third day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands" (ESV). Facing a shipwreck they knew they had to discard some stuff, some of it the ships tackle, to keep the vessel sea-worthy.
The Sunday after Brian's funeral in 2011 I was compelled to preach and was convicted to reference Matthew 8:24 as the text. Matthew wrote, "Without warning a furious storm came up on the lake..." (NIV). It seemed so appropriate in our circumstances, the way this horrible event came on us without warning. For months I studied the shipwreck passage of Acts 27 to absorb the biblical lessons about surviving the sudden storm. The reality of unloading the cargo and tackle were profound. Now four years later everyday I seem to read or hear about personal storms and shipwrecks and the weight of stuff that threatens to take people under. A couple of thoughts are real----
1. Storms often occur without warning. 2. Most of us are overloaded even before the storms come.
We do have our stuff. In many instances, however, my personal possessions
and material blessings are secondary to the gadgets that help govern my
life---my calendars, scheduling toys, social media apps, and the time, which is a
precious commodity. They often impede taking up my cross daily and following
him. It's even more true when the storms come. 3. The stuff that weighs heavy on us are not always possessions.
Paul warned Timothy about being entangled in the pursuits of this life. See
2 Timothy 2:4 (ESV) for this reference. 4. Traveling light is a spiritual discipline.
Jesus sent his disciples out with nothing. They were expected to trust God for
their needs. Reference Matthew 10 for a tutorial in traveling light.
5. He brings peace, not our stuff.
The disciples were amazed when the Lord calmed the storm. He had been
asleep in their panic. In the storm of Acts 27, the cargo and equipment made
no difference in the storm. God had given Paul instructions. He brought them
safely to shore. They didn't need all their stuff.
Jesus knew our stuff would be a problem. He taught his followers to love the things of heaven more than the things of earth and most of us have made peace with that, especially my ministry colleagues. But, even us clergy types cling to our own version of materialism---an affection for control, skills with spinning plates, a martyr complex, competitiveness, envy, position, placement, and defensiveness. Traveling light involves all of the luggage, our attitudes, the past, expectations, authenticity, and a long list of things you can't buy at stuff mart.
We're supposed to unload the stuff at the beginning of the journey, up front before the storms begin. It's what being his disciple is about---denying self, taking up a cross daily, and following him.
When the storms and stuff define us, there's an identity problem. And, when there's an identity problem, the connection to a lost world is broken, and the stuff and storms won't matter much anyway.