Chapter 8 – Possessions

Oswald Chambers once wrote, “What we possess often possesses us – we are possessed by our possessions.”

 

We are in that state of mind right now.  I have lost job permanence.  If we had no possessions except the clothes on our backs, we could go to those relatives who have possessions and ask to sleep on their couch.  We’d be careful not to stay long.  As Benjamin Franklin said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”  We could move into a small room and pay rent working as greeters at a super store.

 

But we have furniture.  We have memories in the form of stuff our sons left when they moved out.  Yes, I know, if they wanted it, they’d have taken it with them, so why do we keep it?  There’s always that adage of you’ll never need it unless you throw it away.  One of my wife’s sisters, who has not one sentimental bone in her body, has offered to help us clean the house.  This means that we let her throw everything we own into a dumpster when we’re not looking.  It’s easy to throw out someone else’s stuff.  To them, it is junk.

 

In the end, God will demand that we leave it behind, and it will be a burden on our children to throw it away.  Will it be like when my mother’s mother died?  They found six unopened bottles of Listerine in the cabinet.  Each grandchild got one.  Laughs were had by all.  Or will it become a financial burden to rent the dumpster and haul the garbage away, wondering why did Mom and Dad keep this junk?

 

Yet, each time we go through an old box, one thing brings back memories, and another thing might be useful if we had time to get back into that craft.  At least the box is half empty.

 

While we’re still alive, we need stuff.  When we die, others sort through our stuff.  My parents lived their retirement in agony.  Not physical agony, but mental agony.  They were afraid they hadn’t stored up enough stuff to survive until they died.  My dad reached 90 years old.  They really got worried in the last few years.

 

I’ve been working at a remote site on my temporary job.  My wife is back home sorting through our stuff.  We’d turned off the cable, so her entertainment was watching blu-ray movies.  The player died with a DVD inside.  She was bored.  She was distraught, because it was a blu-ray, and she could play it in the other room, if she could only get it out.  I was 900 miles away, helpless to help her.  The blu-ray player only needed to be unplugged and plugged in again, but we didn’t know that at the time.  Of course, I was in a hotel with hundreds of channels.  I thought about this chapter.  How can we be so distraught over a small thing?  Have our attention spans grown so short that we can’t entertain ourselves?  I grew up with the classic board games.  We lived in the country, with no neighbors my age.  I would play four-person Monopoly by myself, walking around the card table to play each player’s move.  Now, we cry over a broken DVD player.

 

The key is “Do our possessions possess us?”  I grew up in Mississippi.  They have tornadoes there.  When the news crews arrive, the thing people lament about losing are the photographs.  It’s the same with floods, hurricanes, fires, etc.  Stuff can be replaced.  It might be replaced with better stuff, in a less cluttered environment if you have good insurance.  The stuff of memories can’t be replaced.  My sister-in-law is volunteering to be the house fire.  Everything goes.

 

When my father died.  My mother placed a 5×7 photo next to his casket.  The picture was a hated possession when she first received it.  My mother had raised us to be a proud southern family.  We dressed well.  We were taught to speak well, no foul language.  To describe the photograph and her hatred, and later love, of it, I’ll stage the photo.  My Dad had a garden that he was proud of.  He installed two fences in the middle of the garden that were about seven feet high.  He planted beans along the fence that grew up the fences and across the top, creating an arbor.  You could pick beans on the outside or go through the tunnel and pick even more.  We visited at the peak of the vines’ production and when my Dad emerged from the tunnel of vines, my son took his picture.  My son wasn’t even a teen at the time and he was just tinkering with the camera.  It was a lucky shot.  What my mother hated was that my Dad was wearing coveralls, those one-piece articles of clothing, from shoulders to ankles, with a zipper in front.  She hated my Dad’s love of the garment.  She refused to let him go in public, wearing them.  He loved them for the comfort.  This particular set had some ‘issues’.  He had repaired a spot with some duct tape.  She became very vocal when we presented them a 5×7 print.  We thought it was a great likeness.  It was taken by our older son, their oldest living grandson with the family name.  (My sister had a much older son.)  She insisted on NEVER framing it.

 

What changed with regard to this possession?  My Dad had prostate cancer.  He had the surgery, but his PSA levels came back up.  He had the radiation treatments, but his PSA levels came back up.  They finally gave him radioactive implants.  That worked, but the hormone treatment that accompanied the treatment produced incontinence.  He never wore his beloved coveralls again.  He never knew when he’d have to go, but he knew he’d never have enough time to take the coveralls off.  As a result, picture him in his casket.  The casket covered by the American Flag and a small table next to the casket with this one picture, beautifully framed.  When our lives change, what’s important changes as well.

 

I’ve often wondered what heaven will be like.  What memories will we have?  Will we be so absorbed by the glow of living in a golden city with our Savior who died for us that we don’t remember anything other than we are sinners saved by His Grace?  Or will we remember family, other Christians that touched our lives?  Sure, we can’t take our possessions, but what about our memories?  God will wipe away every tear, but does that mean He’ll help us forget the hurts and pains?  This entire study focuses on preparing us for the next life (along with encouragement until then), but we know nothing about the next life.  All that we know is that it will be better.  In fact, in the range of good, we think of good, better, and best.  Heaven will be that amount of good that is better than any best that we could ever imagine.

 

When I moved the last time, I asked God if this was what He wanted.  I rented my house.  I leased my car.  Our only stuff was the furniture and junk in the boxes.  While we are not of this world, we still must live in it.  It would be great to own the house.  Now that there is little income coming in, it would be nice to have less bills.  We finally bought a car.  But what do you need?  Early in life, a teacher taught me that food, shelter, and clothing were the only essential needs.  Yet, to maintain those, a job or other income is required, and usually that requires transportation.  People in the inner city have mass transit.  Where we live outside of Pittsburgh requires a ten mile drive to reach the closest bus stop, another five miles and we get to a subway stop.

 

 

Since the First Draft

What has happened since the first draft is that we still have the ‘stuff’.  The temporary projects, three in all, are over, replaced by social security.  Will we pass along the burden of our stuff to our children?  That is another chapter that hasn’t been written, yet.  But the children have spoken.  They might opt for a few things (I see a war over the Apollo 11 patch that went to the moon and back.), followed by a house fire.

 

 

Red Letters

 

Matthew 8:18-20 (NIV)

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.  Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.

 

Jesus travelled light.  There was no room for possessions.

 

Luke 12: 13-21 (NIV)

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”  Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.

And he told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.

 

Note how Jesus connects greed and possessions in verse 15.

 

 

Discussion

If your house was burning down and you had time to save one thing, what would it be?  (Any human {even in-laws}, pets, pictures, and important papers are off the board, here.  Those are too easy.)  My grandmother on my father’s side had me pose for a painting.  Would I take a painting of me?  In spite of the strained relationship with my mother, that is what she told people that she would take.

 

 

With the last question in mind, do you have anything that would cause you to turn back if you knew you were going down the road to the next life?  What I mean by this is, would you want to do one thing for the last time?

 

 

Referencing the previous supposition, would you want to say one more ‘I love you.’ Or ‘God loves you.’ Or simply ‘Goodbye.’ To one person?  Remember Lot’s wife, Genesis 19:26 says that she looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.  Does this change your speech patterns and actions today?  I remember going to Memphis, TN with my cousins.  We jointly had an aunt who lived in the little town of Lucy, north of Memphis, but we also visited their paternal grandmother.  One year when we left, I said, “I’ll see you again.”  She died later that year.  My words haunted me for years.  I was not in my teens at this point, but I developed a sense that my word was my bond.  Maybe Cub Scouts helped in that regard and the values that my family espoused.  Since I was an introvert, I silently suffered.  I’m sure any adult would have told me to not worry about it, but still today, I end my conversations with my wife and family with, “I love you.”  This is awkward when you’ve just had a fight, but you don’t know when God will take you or the loved one home.

 

 

Are you a collector?  What do you collect?  Was any parent or grandparent a collector?  My maternal grandmother collected commemorative plates from various states, parks, and tourist traps.  Why do you collect?  What is the purpose of possessing when ultimately God owns everything?

 

 

I’m not condemning you.  I have collected coins and stamps growing up.  I wear hats and neck ties.  I have large collections of each (maybe fifty hats / unique caps {none are baseball caps} and maybe 150 neck ties).  I read a great deal.  I’ve always dreamed of owning a big house with a library that has floor to ceiling books.  As a result, I’ll trade in paperbacks, but I keep the hardbacks for that library.  Now that I know the library may never happen, I struggle with the thought of giving up that collection.  If you had to downsize, could you give up such collections?

 

 

When my mother’s father died, I was exposed to the death of a close family member for the first time.  In my innocence, I asked my grandmother for the civil war rifle.  She laughed and asked if there was anything else that I wanted.  I pointed to the antique radio.  I was ten years old.  She put both of those requests in her will.  I actually took possession long before she passed away.  Have you had people make requests of your personal property in this manner?  Do you have a relative who wants everything?  (I haven’t known a family that didn’t.  So, be honest.)

 

 

Have you wondered what will happen to your stuff when you pass away?  There are a variety of methods, some fair and some far from fair.  Discuss these. 1) Sell everything and split the money. 2) A blend of the first option, but granting small nostalgic requests. 3) Divide the property by acreage without regard of improvements on the property. (One person gets the house while another gets the swamp.)  4) Give the house to the one everyone in the family knows is the most in need. 5) Grab what you can so that the guy with the truck and the trailer gets the most. 6) Give one Listerine bottle to each grandchild, because that is how many unopened bottles were found in the house.  Duplicate this for commemorative plates, canned goods, etc.  7) Anything else that you have experienced or heard of.

 

 

Dedication

When the TV cameras start to roll after a tornado destroyed someone’s home, they lament that they have lost everything.  How would you react?  If someone told you that God had blessed you by taking away all your possessions, would you think that person to be crazy?  How could this person (who is obviously not sensitive to the immediate situation) be correct in losing possessions being a blessing?

 

 

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