God is good. Very often we think “stuff” is good, too. Sometimes we like our stuff better than people and relationships. People can be difficult; they sometimes let us down and often require a lot of monitoring and maintenance. Stuff, on the other hand, can remind us of good times; if it was gifted or earned, it can make us feel appreciated, beautiful, valued. But stuff always has a shelf-life. Wise words from Jesus in Matthew 6.19: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
It is the steadfast work of a rich and rewarding life to engage with one another, to be open and willing to share oneself to deepen and develop the connections that, sort of like electricity, ignite light, life and love. It is interpersonal relationships that build community and nourish us in long-term and deeply satisfying spiritual health.
My daughter recently showed me a video of Marie Kondo, a brilliant tidy-up expert whose methods are simple and compelling. She invites people to sift and sort through their worldly possessions, collections and acquisitions – i.e., their stuff. Following this organizing of clothing, books and papers, kitchen, and finally collectibles and sentimental items, Marie encourages individuals to consider with their minds and with their hearts, “Does it spark joy?” If yes, keep it. If no, be grateful to the item for its place in your life, then liberate it to go to the giveaway pile, the re-use store, or the garbage it if it has no material value to anyone.
Now, truth be told, a lot of prickly issues open up as people begin to unpack their lives: rampant consumerism, unchecked spending habits, mental health issues including depression and compulsive behaviours, cultural norms and expectations, environmental waste and impact, individualism and greed. We must not do it on our own: we need help from each other and from professionals to deal with these matters. It is right to ask for help and accompaniment as we go down the path of healing and recovery. Marie Kondo has it right: it is good to take stock of our possessions, especially to make sure that our possessions do not possess us.
In the Ash Wednesday service, we give voice to the beautiful words from Psalm 51.1: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness” with the refrain, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Coming into right-relationship with our stuff, with our habits, with our loved ones, and with our souls, is a life-long endeavour. Be encouraged in your journey! For the season of Lent, we are invited to take on the process of tidying up some of our chaos – whether it be avoiding grease and sugar, as in the old traditions of food austerity, or, in this age, perhaps a fast from social media, electronic entertainment and relentless schedules. Maybe this Lent we can share our abundance.
Some purposes of Lenten practices are to reconcile or come closer to Jesus in our hearts; to walk more intentionally with our loving, radically-including God through our own practices of self-control and humility; to open our eyes to our own deep need and to the world around us in its need; to hearten and to uplift one another in our daily walk. Be gentle with yourself and love yourself. When you undertake a devotional practice to the glory of God this Lent, make sure that it is one that sparks joy