I don’t know about you, but I’m an information junkie. I seem to want to know everything about everything. Consequently, I find myself buried in piles of books, magazines, articles printed out from the web, and literature that enters the house via mailbox. My garage is full; my “office” is full. There is no longer any place to put stuff.
I developed the habit about 50 years ago as an artist. In those days, artists were eclectic. We did a little bit of everything: sign painting, cartooning, watercolors, oils, acrylics, fine art, silk screen, illustration etc. etc. etc. As a result we kept a “morgue” – a dead file of reference materials relating to all that we produced. Over time, our morgues expanded, as did our art book and magazine libraries.
About 38 years ago, I became a magazine editor/writer. I started information files on all the subjects I was likely to research, write about, or assign other writers. I’ve edited 4 or 5 Christian publications, one for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) patients, a propane industry trade publication, three life insurance sales magazines, a tune-up franchise newsletter, and many others. In addition, I’ve written many hundreds of articles on a wide variety of subjects. My files relating to all these are bulging and overflowing.
To add to the confusion, a few years ago I trained to become an art teacher, and worked at it for about a year. My boss encouraged the habit of carrying an index card and a pen with the day’s “to do” list on it. More paper! I now have hundreds of index cards lying around with fragments of “needed” information on them.
Earlier than all this, my grandfather encouraged the habit of building a personal library of essential volumes. In the 40’s, people still read books. Furthermore, they had actual attention spans. Curling up with a good book was pure pleasure. Besides that, you were liable to learn something if you read. Today we just Google the Wickipedia.
Decades later, when I worked as a field minister in Oklahoma, my boss there – Mr. Dean Blackwell – generated in me the habit of haunting used bookstores in search of prize books to add to one’s collection. To date, I’ve never been able to break the habit. Most of what I’ve learned in life has come from books.
I’ve been “retired” from active employment for years, yet I have continued to add to my morgue, files, library and stacks of index cards. The mess has now reached critical mass. (That’s a massive mess.) For months I have been in the process of reducing things to essentials. Unfortunately, everything seems essential! Getting rid of things is a painful process.
Over the years, I’ve produced a substantial body of work (art & writing) – almost none of which is important to anyone but me and perhaps a couple of my kids. I realize that when I die, someone’s going to have a monstrous job on their hands – if I don’t get it done beforehand. The accumulations of a lifetime are simply enormous. So everyday I chip away at it, reducing, reducing, reducing.
Why am I telling you this? Because I believe there is in it an object lesson for all of us, especially those of us who are older. Over a lifetime, we all accumulate baggage. The content of that baggage is different for each of us. I have a neighbor who is a mechanic and a “Mr. Fixit.” He is inundated with mounds of tools and pieces of automobiles. He too is running out of places to store things.
Another neighbor is an RV/barbecue enthusiast. He too has accumulated all the trappings that go with that lifestyle – umbrellas, torches, fire pits, barbecues, and a massive RV that takes up most of his driveway.
While we’re alive and fully functioning, we may need many of these things – not all of them mind you, but at least some of them. At some point, many of them become excess baggage that clutters things up, and stuffs all available space. Perhaps, as we grow older, it’s time to streamline. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is found addressing a crowd of people. A voice asks him, “Teacher [Rabbi], tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me,” (Luke 12:13). Apparently, someone had left their entire estate to one of two or more brothers. The one left out wanted his share. Jesus responds, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions,” (verse 15).
Our material accumulations do not represent the essence of our lives. In my lifetime, I have accumulated nothing of significant material value. My books, files and art materials are strictly functional – related to the work I do. But they are precious to me.
What’s important to me may not be important to Him who made me. What’s he’s looking for is the character I’ve built. He’s looking at the relationships I’ve formed with him and with fellow man. Character and relationship – that’s what’s truly important. Have I built gold, silver and precious stones – or merely wood, hay and stubble (I Corinthians 3:12)? Will what the Lord has been able to build in me (Phil. 1:6) last forever – or will it all be vaporized as worthless? Only God knows.
What I know is that “…godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that,” (I Timothy 6: 6-8).
God has blessed us with food, shelter, clothing and transportation. That’s really all we need – especially at this juncture in our lives. I have a great wife and a wonderful family. In that I am richly blessed. What more could I ask for? Solomon, despite all his wealth and wisdom, came to understand in old age what was truly important, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white [live a godly life] and always anoint your head with oil [be filled with the Spirit]. Enjoy your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun — all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life…” (Ecclesiastes 9: 7-9a).
Life of Self-Indulgence
Solomon accumulated much: great projects, houses, vineyards, gardens, parks, fruit trees, reservoirs, armies of slaves, herds and flocks, silver and gold, singers and a vast harem (Ecclesiastes 2: 4-8). He said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure…” (v. 10a). When he looked back on it all, toward the end of his life, he wrote, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
Whether we are rich, like Solomon, or relatively poor, the accumulations of a lifetime ultimately mean nothing. When we’re gone, one of several things will happen: Our “stuff” will end up being distributed among our heirs, sent to Goodwill, sold in an estate or garage sale, burned in a barrel, or simply put out with the week’s waste.
The best thing we can do is learn, like Paul, to live simply, jettison all unnecessary baggage, and build our relationships with the Lord, our families, friends and others. If we can learn to reduce life to manageable, bite-size, pieces, we’ll stand a better chance of getting through it with flying colors. It’s a matter of learning to prioritize: God first, husband or wife next, children next, work last. If we get those things out of order, life will go awry. Next, forsake materialism and cling rather to God. We were put on this earth by God and for God. We are here to serve his purposes, to learn to love, and to imitate where possible, our heavenly Father.
Many of us are just natural pack rats. Imelda Marcos was into shoes. Donald Trump collects massive chunks of real estate. Some people amass stocks, bonds, mutual funds, gold, silver and platinum while others collect baseball cards or antique teapots. When we’re gone, all that we accumulated is gone. (Reminds me of the old man who said, “Well, if ya cain’t take it with ya, I ain’t a-goin’.”)
To what do we sow?
While we’re still here, we, as Christians, would be well off to follow Paul’s advice to the Galatians: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith,” (Galatians 6:7-10). Doing good is sowing to the Spirit.
Sowing to accumulation, materialism, packratism, things, stuff and wealth for its own sake, is largely an exercise in futility. Solomon observed, “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless – a miserable business,” (Eccl. 4:8).
Enjoying what we have
What God has given us we should enjoy and share while we have it, “Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of his life God has given him – for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is the gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart,” (Eccl. 5:18-20).
Life is short, and not always sweet. God has blessed us with our “daily bread” and much more besides. Perhaps it’s time to reduce the baggage of superfluous accumulations and live more simply, more joyously, and more lovingly, with our brethren in the Body, and with the families with which we are blessed. As Paul wrote, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”