I had an interesting experience this week when my car started making a whining noise. Then it didn’t want to go anymore. I took it to the shop and hoped it would be a quick fix. Instead, the transmission was toast, and I ended up buying a different car instead of repairing the old one. The story sounds very straightforward, not even worth mentioning hardly, and yet it was a very emotional experience for me when it shouldn’t have been.
I bought my old car when it was brand new in 2004. It was a gold Jeep Liberty that had been plagued with problems for the 12 years I owned it, but I was still quite proud of it. True, it was dinged, always dirty, and the seats were stained with apple juice and filled with Cheerio crumbs. There was a huge scratch on the door where the dog jumped out the window one day, and the bumper was banged up from an accident I had last year. I told myself for several years that I was keeping it because it was paid for, I didn’t need to be flashy and drive a new car, that it still ran so why bother replacing it… but the truth of the matter is I kept the car many years after I likely should have traded it in because I was emotionally attached to it. And therein lies the problem. I actually cried this week when I had to make the decision to part from my “friend.” My car wasn’t my friend, and buying a new car wasn’t a betrayal to the old car, because the old car was exactly that- a car. An object. A thing. An earthly tool I used to get from one place to another. It was a good tool, and in the end a bad tool, but a tool all the same.
I told my friend, “I really don’t want to get rid of my old car because I am emotionally attached to it.” She is a very wise friend, and told me, “Oh. Then it is good to let go of it, especially if you are emotionally attached.” That seems like the exact opposite of what she should have said, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t she have comforted me, and said she was sorry for my loss? But she had no sympathy for me. If you love a thing, then you must get rid of the thing. And she was completely right.
Here’s the deal, we live in a consumerist society. America is the land of the free, and the home of the brave, but it’s also the land of black Friday sales, and the home of McMansions. Americans love to get their new Iphones every year, buy new cars every two years, and live in the biggest house they can afford (sometimes houses bigger than they can afford, if we are truthful). We are a land filled with credit card debt, stress, and worry about where we will get enough money to buy that next THING. We LOVE our THINGS. And that is the problem. Things are simply that, things. They are tools to be used. They are things to serve a purpose. They are not deserving of our love, and have no ability to love us back. When we put our love and faith in things, we are guaranteed disappointment.
One of the most difficult parts of the New Testament for some of us to really understand is when Jesus tells his disciples to leave everything behind and follow him. I like this version of Matthew 19:21, from the New Living Translation, because it gets right to the heart of the matter.
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
So what did the disciples do? They left their jobs, their homes, their belongings, and pretty much became homeless and penniless to follow Jesus. Take a moment and imagine doing the same thing. Would you be a follower of Jesus today if you had to give up every single thing you own to be able to do it? Would you give away your car, your phone, your TV, all of your clothes, every last item you have? I think very few people reading this today would. I know that I would have a very hard time doing it myself. I cried like a big old baby this week over a car for goodness sake, and I even got a new shiny car to replace it. Could I really give up everything I own?
To be honest, I don’t feel like Jesus made poverty a requirement of Christianity. Luckily, as believers, we aren’t required to sell everything we own and head out on the road as penniless missionaries. What we must do, however, is be very careful regarding our attachments to wealth, to material objects, to earthly desires for earthly things. Every person reading this today could easily sell some of their belongings, and donate the proceeds to the poor. Each one of us has things we are too emotionally involved with, and we would be well served to give up those items. At the very least we should remind ourselves that they are just things, and our real focus should be on the good news and sharing it with the world around us.
Why not ask yourself today, “What things am I too attached to, and what can I do to sever that attachment?” Better yet, how can you use the tools you’ve been provided to make the world a better place? Maybe that car in your driveway would be a great tool for you to use to deliver Meals on Wheels to elderly people who can’t leave their homes. Your beautiful home and brand new living room set would be a great place to host a small group, or Bible study. All of those clothes, books, and extra DVDs you don’t really need could be donated to your local thrift shop that helps support the homeless, single mothers, or those less fortunate in your community. The things you own are tools, how can you apply those tools towards the greater good?
As for me, letting go of the car was a great lesson. I learned I must guard against forming sentimental attachments to the things in this world. We are bound for greater things when we reach Heaven, our eternal home. All material things, all the tools of this world, are temporary, perishable, and will not last. If we look for things to bring us emotional comfort, we will always be empty, unsettled, and looking for the next best thing. A new iPhone today satisfies us only until the first time we drop it and crack the screen, or until a newer model comes out. Earthly treasures will never fulfill us, or help fill our empty hearts. Therefore we must store up our true treasures in heaven.
I have driven my new car for a few days now, and the sting of losing my old one is a bit less harsh. It has been a great eye opening experience, showing me a weak spot I might have claimed I didn’t have even a few short days ago. Going forward I am going to be more mindful about keeping my heart from forming attachments to objects, or even letting myself dwell over that ever growing list of things I want. But more than just that, I am also going to be mindful of the fact that the things I own are simply tools, here to serve earthly tasks, not fill a spot in my soul that should be dedicated to loftier goals.
Meet Christy Hullum:
Christy Hullum is a thirty-something year old freelance writer and photographer in the Austin area. She is a Concordia University at Austin alumna, and attends a quaint Lutheran church somewhere in the heart of Texas. In addition to writing and photography, she is an avid lover of travel, with a particular affinity for beaches. She also volunteers at the local animal shelter to help homeless pets find forever homes- please consider adopting, fostering, or volunteering at your local shelter! In the meantime you can check out her photography at www.christyhullum.com or check out her blog about the joys of glamorous camping and vintage RVs at www.glampingnation.com