Have you ever watched the show Hoarders? I’ve only seen one episode, but it is a frightening show. At least, for me it is, because I sometimes have trouble letting go of things “in case I need it later.”
One of the families in the episode I watched had at least eighteen inches of debris on the floor throughout the house. I was struck by the sheer wastefulness of their lifestyle. Obviously they couldn’t find what they needed, so they frequently went out and bought replacements. The dad had broken fish tanks on the porch, an unattached deck rescued from someone else’s house in the yard, sports equipment in the living room, and all kinds of memorabilia not only from his youth, but also from people he knew only as acquaintances throughout the house. The greatest reason for their desperate situation? They kept everything in case they needed it later. They finally sought help because they were at risk of losing their children if their house was not deemed habitable by a state-mandated deadline. They stood to lose the one thing they really couldn’t replace because they held so tightly to things they could.
There but for the grace of God go I…
My house isn’t anything like the Hoarders show, but sometimes I need to look at the clutter around my own house and see the waste implied.
When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor. — Basil the Great
There is this very real sense that my clutter simultaneously distracts me from what I should be doing and steals from those around me.
Sometimes I look at my limited resources and think I cannot help someone else – the homeless person with the cardboard sign at the exit of the interstate near my home, the girl at the crisis pregnancy center who will need clothes for her newborn, the family in my church who needs school clothes for their children, the missionary who has a temporary need beyond what raised support will cover, the high school graduate unable to attend college who is setting up his first apartment on minimum wage income…
And then I look around at my clutter and see the excess. Sure, I could get a lot of money for the set of dishes I replaced with Christmas money this year. And we need some repairs done on the house and the dish money could be the way to finance them. But at what cost? I don’t mean the eBay fees, either. I mean, am I exchanging a little bit of my heart for Christ – an opportunity for compassion, generosity, and faith – by holding onto the dishes for my own material gain?
I really don’t know the answer here. On one hand, something like this stack of dishes could be the way God is providing for my needs. On the other hand, selling the stack of dishes could be me seeking to provide for myself rather than trusting God to be my provider. How do I know the difference?
I do know James 2:15-16 reminds me, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”
There are very real times when I truly cannot help a brother or sister in need. But there are an awful lot of times when I could, if I were willing to let go of some of my I-might-need-it-laters.
There is a Getty Townend song called Simple Living that cuts right to my heart every time I hear it. The lyrics they wrote say, “it’s not what you give but what you keep is what the King is counting.”
This song directs my view away from what I give generously and stubbornly focuses on what is tightly held in my hand and heart.
They go on to sing:
Oh teach me Lord to walk this road, the road of simple living; to be content with what I own and generous in giving. And when I cling to what I have, please wrest it quickly from my grasp. I’d rather lose all the things of earth to gain the things of heaven.
Have you ever thought about your clutter as giving up the things of heaven to keep the things of earth?
Do you stand to lose the irreplaceable “Well done, good and faithful servant” for the easily replaceable nineteenth pair of shoes?
What peace do we forfeit when we cling to all the I-might-need-it-laters around the house?
I know it is not an easy question. I’m still wrestling with the question of the dishes on my counter…