My friend who just finished seminary accepted a pastoral position at a church in Hawaii. (Talk about suffering for Jesus, right?) In moving there, the church will be paying to ship his truck there, so that he has a car while on the island. As any typical graduate student does throughout the course of their studies, he collected lots of stuff – mostly books, but also furniture, clothes, etc. While shipping his truck to Hawaii may sound like an easy way to take most of his possessions with him, it’s actually quite the opposite. He is only allowed to keep items in the truck that are bolted down. That means even his face plate for his after-market CD player has to come out.
Ultimately this means that he is getting rid of stuff. He just recently told me how he got rid of 3 boxes worth of books, in addition to lots of other clothes, etc. I started to think about how much stuff my wife and I have collected in the 3 years that we have been married. While we live in a 1 bedroom apartment, I can hardly believe how much stuff we have. How did this happen?!
Are Material Possessions Bad?
We often hear about consumerism or worldly possessions and how bad it is for us. I believe much of this conversation stems from a very basic truth:
You can’t take it with you!
This is the idea that when you die, all the stuff that you have collected over your life means absolutely nothing. Yes, that’s right, those baseball cards, your lucky underwear, your stainless steel appliances – it doesn’t mean anything when you pass.
Yet, this basic truth is often exaggerated…
Worldly possessions are bad. They are evil. Material possessions are false idols.
Or, my personal favorite:
Material possessions hurt your relationship with God.
Since when is a relationship with God and having stuff mutually exclusive? I guess I should be clear. I’m not talking about the level of the “Hoarders” T.V. show(s). I suspect that we all know that hoarding is a serious social illness of some sort (or at least that’s my suspicion without watching the show much). Instead, I am talking about the average person. Isn’t it possible that possessions are not all bad? Or even better, couldn’t it help us in our relationship with God?
Why Possessions Can Help our Faith
I ask this question of whether the stuff in our lives can be a good thing because of two reasons. I often like to tackle the common assumptions of the Christian faith, especially as it relates to finances. This is one of the reasons that I look at tithing differently than other Christian finances authors. The second reason that I ask this question is because of a significant change recently.
My wife and I recently invested in a portable dishwasher. There, I said it! Well, that may not sound like much, but if you know me, it is huge! I absolutely hate doing dishes. Because we are renting, our unit does not have a dishwasher. In our 3 years of married life, we have never had one. This means that we spend, at minimum 3 hours a week doing dishes. My wife’s in-laws were coming into town and I had two days of dishes piled up (prior to getting our dishwasher). I had to do all the dishes at once and it took me 2 hours! Wowzer!
As a result of buying our new dishwasher, things have drastically improved. It literally takes minutes instead of hours each week. I told my wife that it was the best investment ever! That’s how much our dishwasher means to us.
Does this mean that I am too reliant on this material item? Am I ruining my relationship with God because I enjoy the luxury of some of my STUFF?
I think it would be hard to find someone that would answer, “yes” to these questions. I think it is especially relevant when you consider the time saved. I have more time to spend on whatever I choose. Whether this is volunteering, praying, reading, etc. I believe this is a great example that material stuff cannot be equated with evilness. Stuff is not inherently bad.
A Proper Balance
I believe understanding that our possessions are not bad in and of themselves, but instead how we use them is very important. Understanding that we can utilize our STUFF to be a greater service to our community is an important thing. Yet, it doesn’t mean you should buy as many items as possible to free up more free time. There needs to be some balance.
There needs to be a balance between spending without concern for others and avoiding items all-together because of the belief that they are inherently bad. I can’t say where people should draw the line, but I believe it should be somewhere in the middle. One needs to consider the motives for buying stuff before anything.
Are you buying that because it will make you feel good? Do you absolutely NEED to have it? Why are you buying it?
These are all important questions to answer when thinking about how much stuff you have. When you consider that in addition to the great need in this world, you are on the right track.
Readers, where do you think is the balance? Should people sell all their possessions?