How do you pack when you go on vacation? Are you someone who tries to take it all? Even the fish? A couple of years ago I flew to SC for a week to visit my parents and when I got off the plane with my bag, my Dad asked, is that all you brought for a week? I said, yup – you do have a washer and dryer right? I took about three days’ worth of clothes and figured I would just wash what I brought so I didn’t have to carry a lot with me.
There are two kinds of travelers, those who travel light, and those who take everything with them. I used to take everything with me on vacation, everything I thought I might possibly need for every conceivable situation, and then I realized that I never wore or used half of what I took. I now lay out everything I am going to take on a trip and then remove half of it and take what is left.
Traveling light is not just for trips and vacations, however, it is how we need to travel through life. Too many of us are weighed down by all that we have accumulated. We have too much stuff, too many distractions, too much bitterness and hurt and pain, and too many things we try to control to really enjoy life. All that we seek to hold on to in life is literally weighing us down and keeping us from experiencing more joy, more peace, more adventure, and more faith and trust in God. As we move through this Advent season and prepare ourselves for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we are going to talk about how to start travelling light.
When I was in college, I wanted to be able to place all my belongings in my car, and my car was a two door Volkswagen Fox. For a while I was able to do this, mostly because I didn’t own any furniture. In 1990, I sold just about everything I had and packed up my little Fox and moved to CA. That was the last time I was able to get all my stuff into my car. Since then I have accumulated furniture, family heirlooms, 26 years of sermons, and two closets full of nativity scenes. I also live alone and have 4 TV’s!
While we spend our lives trying to hold on to more and more, the author of Ecclesiastes says, Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. While we often tell ourselves that less is more, and that we probably don’t need all the stuff we have accumulated, there is something inside of us that calls out for more. If one tv is good, 2 is better, and 4 is ideal. This drive for more stuff and the idea that more is better and that more will make us happy is ingrained in us, it is part of our culture, part of society, and probably even part of our DNA. We can go back to Adam and Eve and see that what got them into trouble was a desire for more.
Think about their story. Adam and Eve were placed in paradise and told that they could have it all. Literally – it was all for them and yet they weren’t content with everything – they wanted more. More is always better – they thought that. We think that. And that’s why we have more stuff than we can ever use, and why we are even paying people to store our stuff for us.
There is currently 2.3 billion square feet of storage space in America. That is enough space for every man, woman, and child in the US to stand together. Half of this space is storing what won’t fit in our homes, and 15% of all storage unit renters say they are storing what they don’t need and don’t want, and yet won’t let go of. Our stuff is weighing us down. We have larger homes than a generation ago, and yet we can’t fit what we own into our homes. Our stuff has taken over, our two hands are full and with it comes the toil of taking care of it all.
This is what Jesus said about all our stuff, Watch out, be on guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. Luke 12:15. Wanting two handfuls of stuff is such a powerful force that Jesus had to warn us not once but twice. Watch out. Be on your guard. Our stuff is dangerous because over time it robs us of the joy we can find in life when we are able to focus on God, and it erodes our faith as we trust more in our stuff than we do in God. What we need to do is work to develop a one handful way of life.
The first thing we might need to do live a one handful life is to learn how to throw out what we don’t want and don’t need. Some people say we need to think about downsizing as if our lives depended on it. A few years ago I was thinking that when I die my nieces and nephews are not going to want any of my stuff. What was I keeping for? Why am I accumulating more? And why is it so hard to give things away?
That’s the real question we might want to ask ourselves as we seek to travel light, why is it so hard to give things away? Sometimes we hold on to things out of fear. We are afraid that if we give something away, that is going to be the very moment we need it. Sometimes we are afraid to let things go because they mean so much to us and we don’t want to forget those memories. If what we have has come from a family member or friend, and we cherish them, we cherish what they have given us. Our stuff reminds us of them and if we let it go, we are afraid we are letting go of them. Sometimes it is a fear of losing something valuable, and therefore losing money, so we hold on to all we have with both hands. After all, we were told in the 80’s and 90’s that those Beanie Babies were going to be valuable someday – we can’t let go of them now.
Learning how to downsize and throw things away is not easy, but it can be helpful and freeing. Giving clothes away that we will never wear so that others can wear them not only blesses others, it blesses us. Giving things away to those in need can lift our own hearts and lives as well as lift up the lives of others. Remember, it is Jesus who said it is more blessed to give than to receive. So let’s give stuff away.
Letting go of things that might have sentimental meaning will also show us that the strong connection we have for our family and friends is not tied into things. When the things are gone, the memories and relationships are still there. What we learn is that love doesn’t go away when the stuff goes away. Love endures and love remains.
Does this mean we need to give everything away – no. It’s ok to hold on to some things. Marie Kondo, in her book the life-changing magic of tidying up, talks about looking at our stuff and keeping those things that spark joy. If it doesn’t bring joy, if it’s just sitting in a closet or storage unit and weighing us down, can we begin to let it go.
The second thing we need to learn how to do is buy less. I know what you are thinking right now…. Too late. Black Friday was two days ago and all my Christmas Shopping is done. That’s ok. I’m not talking about buying less just at Christmas (although now might be a great time to start), I’m talking about buying less all year. Too many of us buy things because we think we need it, or worse, we think it will make us happy and our lives more fulfilled. Too often we look to our stuff to do what God alone can do. We need to shift our eyes from the world and put them back on God.
Can we say what the Psalmist said, Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things and preserve my life according to your word. Psalm 119:36-37. When our eyes and our hearts aren’t focused on the world around us, we begin to realize that much of what we think we need – we don’t. And much of what we currently have – we can do without.
Throw out, buy less, and then finally we need to learn how to give more. Last month, we talked about giving and how we experience a blessed life by giving, and we need to keep that perspective all through the year and all through life. A lifestyle of giving doesn’t just focus on giving more money or more of our possessions, it also means giving more of our time, our faith, our love, and ourselves. 1 Timothy 6:17-19.
This is a command to all of us because all of us are rich. If we can order a pizza from our phones, right now, we are rich. Notice that what Paul says is that when we are rich in good deeds, when we are generous and willing to share what we have, then we begin to take hold of a life that is true life. In other words, we start really living not by getting more and holding on to more stuff, but by giving it away, and giving ourselves away.
As we begin to let go of our stuff and live a one handful way of life, something wonderful begins to happen, we find that our other hand is now free to do some wonderful life changing things.
We are able to reach down and lift others up.
We are able to reach out and welcome more people into our lives. And we are able to reach up to God with thanks and praise.
One handful living allows our free hand to grab hold of the life God wants to offer us. As we learn how to travel light on our way to Christmas, can we commit to letting go of our stuff so we can grab hold of the gift that makes all the difference – Jesus?
Questions for Reflection:
How has holding on to all my stuff with two hands been keeping me from God?
What do I need to throw out and give away this week?
What is God asking me to do with my free hand?
Reach down to help? Reach out to welcome?
Reach up in praise?
Travel Light – Letting Go Of Stuff
As you light a candle at your home, or see the candles in your windows at night, reflect on these questions:
- How has holding on to all my stuff with two hands been keeping me from God?
- What do I need to throw out and give away this week?
- What is God asking me to do with my free hand?
○ Reach down to help?
○ Reach out to welcome?
○ Reach up in praise?
Steps we can take to travel light:
1. Throw Out: Go through your basement, attic, and closets and throw outitems that can both lighten your load and bless other people. Donate to the Habitat Restore, Faith Centre, or Centre Peace.
2. Buy Less. Buy fewer gifts and purchase gifts that will encourage spending time with one another. (board games, coupons for family time together, calendars that include family time set aside each week and special times each month)
3. Give More. Commit to giving in one new way this season.
- Give to a family in need.
- Give to a neighbor who lives alone.
- Give to someone in the church who needs a smile.
- Give time to Habitat for Humanity or Toys for Tots.
- Set aside money to give to our Christmas Eve Offering
- Give time in prayer for a person or family that needs to know the love of Jesus.
- Give an invitation to someone to join you in worship during Advent or on Christmas Eve.