Moving is often a good way to get acquainted with one's own excess. Closets full of clothes and shoes. A garage full of totes. Drawers full of socks. An entire cupboard full of mugs. How does so much amass so discreetly?
I like to imagine myself as a minimalist who advocates for living simply, but my recent relocation from Stewartville to Rochester revealed that I have quite a lot of stuff for someone who professes such deep love for the tiny house movement.
My friends, Erin and Chris, have three little ones, and over the years, they have taught me a lot about living with intention. Erin and I were talking on the phone recently about the challenges of minimalism. She and her husband were eons ahead on this trend. Erin was advocating gardening, bartering, and buying in bulk way before anyone else I know. She doesn't have a strong attachment to stuff; it's inspiring.
There is a freedom that comes through releasing attachments, and that's the focus of today's second-to-last installment of the Lenten series. Throughout the last several weeks, we've been journeying with Jesus through the biblical book of Luke. Today we wander with Jesus from attachment into freedom.
Jesus once said, "So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions" (Luke 14:33).
It's one of those extreme-sounding verses that makes me immediately want to find an alternative interpretation. "Jesus, were you maybe a little hungry or tired when you said that? That's not really what you meant, right? Were you maybe a bit fatigued from all your travels and preaching responsibilities?"
I want to say to Jesus, "Give up ALL my possessions? How about just SOME of my possessions?"
And yet, despite my protests, there the invitation remains: be willing to give it all up. In addition to possessions, Jesus also mentions being wary of attachments to power and wealth. He doesn't say that it's all inherently bad, but he does describe that our attachments can stand in the way of living a life of justice and love.
In Luke 18, a wealthy ruler asks Jesus what he needs to do in order to be assured a place in eternity. First, Jesus says, "You know the commandments." The man says, "I've kept them all." Jesus responds in a way that conveys that while the man's rule-keeping may be admirable, he's missing the point. He says to the man, "There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor…then come, follow me."
That must've been a hard pill to swallow. I imagine that wealthy ruler was hoping for an alternative interpretation. He probably had a cupboard full of mugs like me.
There are a variety of reasons our attachments can act as impediments. First off, they can distract and consume us. Second, possessions tend to create a sense of entitlement that separates us from other people (i.e. "This is mine. Not yours."). Third, the creation and disposal of all that stuff is hard on the environment of which we are commanded to be good stewards. Fourth, the accumulating of possessions makes us accomplices to the giant lie that stuff brings fulfillment (even though researchers have shown repeatedly that material possessions do not make people happier). And fifth, our attachments can lead us into a false sense of permanence when in reality, none of it is permanent. It's all changing, ebbing, flowing, and evolving. Releasing our attachments can free us from a lot of suffering caused by wanting things to stay the same in a world that is ever-changing.
The social and economic realities of Jesus' context were certainly different from our own. But his wisdom is timeless. Jesus invites us down a path that turns away from the imprisoning nature of the accumulation of stuff.
I don't believe Jesus' goal is ever to shame people for having possessions and attachments. He recognizes that shame of any kind is just another prison. Instead, I believe Jesus came to free us from all the things that hold us captive, and for some of us, that's our attachments.
It can feel overwhelming to imagine untangling our identities from our possessions and power. Gratefully, Jesus reminds us that, "What is impossible for mortals is possible for God" (Luke 18:27). We don't go it alone; what eternally good news.